let’s hear it for the mothers, the grandmothers, the daughters and the aunties

In my 20s, I blithely dismissed the idea that having a career as a woman is tough. Ditto the idea that our prospects are impacted by our gender. I worked in libraries. All around me, I saw women in leadership positions. Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?

But then I grew up, stepped up the ladder a couple of rungs, stepped out of libraries, and saw past my blinkers. And I realised just how bloody hard it is.

That’s not why I’m writing this post.

I’m writing it because I think as a society we pay lip service to the idea of recognising non-traditional families. And this International Women’s Day, I’ve got something to say about it.

Mothers face a particular set of challenges as participants in the workforce. Whether they work because they want to or work because they have to or a bit of both, there is at least some recognition that it’s not easy for women to balance motherhood and work. There are still big, impenetrable barriers that stop women who are mothers from participating in the workforce in the same way, and with the same sort of career progression, as men. But there is at least some basic level of recognition that as mothers, women have responsibilities outside the office.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. It is not even close to being enough.

Organisations aren’t family-friendly – at least, I don’t know of one that really, truly is. But in many cases, they are a bit friendlier if your family is a traditional family than they are if it’s not.

What about the women with aging parents? Do workplaces support them? What about the grandmothers that are on call to pick up sick grandchildren at school? Do they drop a day’s pay to fulfill their responsibilities as primary carers?

Because this is how *real* families work.

It’s not mum, dad and two kids. Sometimes it’s mum and two kids. Or mum, grandma and two kids. Maybe it’s two mums and a kid. Or something entirely different.

Families aren’t always cared for by one mother. There are other women in the mix too. And it’s not only children that women care for. I see this everywhere.

And what I also see is how hard it is for these non-mothers to fulfill their family commitments, because in our workplaces, the provisions for caring for families are built around the idea that familial care and familial duties are about a mother caring for her children (‘hers’ in law).

That’s not always how it works in the real world.

So when we talk about how hard it is for women in corporate Australia, in academia, in any work context, let’s not forget that we’re not all mothers, but many of us have other family responsibilities to negotiate, too.

some things change

For the last two years, I’ve been working with the very lovely, amazingly talented and ridiculously hard working Zaana. She has been my virtual office buddy, my co-conspirator, my sounding board, my cheer squad, and ledge buddy. I have learned from her and tackled challenges with her, and shared a car on the dark and twisty PhD roller coaster.

She has been my online shopping/procrastination buddy…

Online shopping buddy

And my motivator.

Spurrer

She has snuck in behind me and fixed my mistakes before I even knew I’d made them…

mistakes

And we have had deep and meaningful discussions.

Deep and meaningful

She has been my sense-making buddy…

Sensemaking

And co-creator of the longest analytic memo ever written.

memo

Some things change. Like the paths we’re walking.

But some things stay the same. Like good friendships.

All my love and all the luck for your new adventure, sweet. xxx

the very hardest thing

Earlier, I was eating my lunch and reading Penelope Trunk’s latest blog post on the incompatibility of big careers and involved parenting, when my sister turned up (delivering groceries, because these are things I don’t do when I get busy). I went out to the car to say hi to my niece and my sister told me about a conversation they had this morning in which my niece asked whether I would be finished working once they saw me on stage (at my graduation). Seeing me on stage has become a bit of a metaphor for winning me back from work. She was somewhat disappointed to find out I would still have to work, even if I wouldn’t have to write my book anymore (this is how we talk about my PhD). But I told her I would have weekends back and I’d be able to hang out and then we both said we’re sick of me writing my book all the time.

And this is the very, very hardest thing. Not being able to spend time with my little loves, especially when they really need it.

my non-resolutions and what’s on the horizon in 2014

As a follow up from my post yesterday about what I did in 2013, today I’m sharing my non-resolutions for 2014, a couple of things that are on my to do list for 2014, and some reflections on what’s on the horizon for me in the year ahead.

I should start by saying I am more excited about 2014 than I have been about any new year in a very long time. It’s going to be a big year, full of new challenges, moving on and big opportunities.

On non-resolutions

I could write a list of fifty resolutions. Easily. There are many things I want to do differently, many habits I want to change, and many new things I want to try. But I’m terrible at seeing my new year’s resolutions through.

A wise woman recently called me on my habit of setting overly ambitious goals. She said something like this:

It’s great to be ambitious and set goals that are a stretch, but every time you set yourself a goal that you don’t end up hitting, you die a little bit inside. So think carefully about your goals because over time, consistently falling short of them wears you down.

You might think that sounds like bad advice. After all, shouldn’t we be aiming to be the best person we can possibly be? The reality, though, is that we (read: me) wear ourselves out by working like mad to hit crazy targets, and then we wear ourselves down when we miss them. Double whammy. Ambitious is fine. But achievable is critical.

So this year, instead of having a spreadsheet full of resolutions (did I just admit I’ve done that in public?!), I am making one commitment to myself from the very long list of things I might have made resolutions about. This one thing, though, will help me to realise some of the other things I might have resolved to do because it will give me back a large chunk of the commodity that is most important to me: my time.

In 2014, I am going to take a day off, every week. A whole day.

No thesis writing. No email checking. No responding to student tweets or Facebook posts. Just. Nothing. For one day, each week. Every week. Even when I have marking deadlines. And even before my thesis is done.

I’ve already tried to cut a deal with myself about this commitment. In fact, I tried to cut a deal with myself about it back in December, when I first told a friend about it. I said, “I think I’ll start it in February, once I’m passed this intense writing period”. And then I realised that was a completely ridiculous deal to be cutting. I know I need downtime to maintain my productivity and I know I need it to maintain my health, and yet here I was, ready to commit to yet another month of working seven days a week.

So I started this week, by having new year’s day off.

One day off. Every week. No matter what.

My to do list

There are three things on my to do list this year.

First, the big, obvious one: 2014 will be the year I finish my PhD. I just have to push through with writing for another six weeks or so, and then revisions for as long as that takes. I think I should feel like I’m on the downhill stretch, but the reality is submitting my thesis still feels like a lifetime’s worth of work away. I’ll nail this item on my to do list by focussing on what I have to do today, rather than what I have to do to finish.

The second and third things on my to do list are nebulous ideas and I’m not sure what they’ll end up looking like. So I’m keeping these to myself for now. What I can say is these two things don’t necessarily involve big changes, but are really about consolidating.

The horizon

On the life front, I’ll be doing more of the same in 2014, but now with more time! We have some big education milestones this year… I will finish my PhD and the twins start school (*sob*). Did I mention I will finish my PhD this year? I already have a Pinterest board full of ideas for things I want to do around the house once the PhD is done, but more than anything, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to the nagging guilt that rears up whenever I have some time off. I am also really looking forward to having a proper break from work (and PhD – in case you didn’t know, I’m going to finish it this year) and I will be scheduling in a couple of weeks of holidays in the very near future.

There’s some fun stuff happening for me at work in the next little while:

  • For the next six months, I’m acting coordinator of library and information education. Time to get my admin ninja on! We have lots of exciting things happening so it’s a great time to be in this role.
  • We are about to try out a bunch of different consumer technology products in our teaching. Thanks to a small infrastructure grant we won, we are setting up a mobile teaching tech suite. We’ll be implementing the tools in different ways – a bunch of different models really – and evaluating the success of the different models from both staff and student perspectives.
  • I am getting involved in a university-wide teaching and learning project, on a partial secondment for six months. 

So that’s how my 2014 is looking. I’m excited to see how it all pans out.

my 2013 done list

A while back, a friend introduced me to the idea of done lists. I’ve used them in my teaching, specifically with students in our Executive Information Practice major, which is a bit like an MBA for information professionals. The point of this activity is to get students to think about what they’ve already achieved and how that might apply to where they want to go with their careers.

As I started thinking about my 2013 review post, I realised I didn’t want to write a post that reflected on any of the crap that I encountered in the last year – unless I could do it in a positive way. So I decided that a done list might be a good way to reflect on the things I did in the last 12 months – not necessarily things I achieved, but rather, things I did that I want to remember.

Here it is!

Life

  • I started this blog in June and made 54 posts, many about my PhD progress, and many about other aspects of my life.
  • I watched a serious amount of awesome TV. In the last 12 months, I watched Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, The Bridge and Homeland, start to finish. All the seasons. Well, I think I actually had a season of Sons under my belt from December 2012 and I still have two episodes of seasons six to go. But the point is, I watched more than 14 seasons of various television series. Plus an epically long first season of Person of Interest. Ironically, this happened in what was probably the busiest year of my life to date.
  • I read 20 novels, which was considerably below my annual target of 52 (which I’ve never managed to hit!). But 20 isn’t too shabby when you think about how much potential reading time I’ve spent in front of the TV writing my thesis.
  • I redecorated my home office and turned it into a space I love to be in.
  • I got myself a life coach and with her help (and the support of good friends) I started to change the way I think about lots of things: being busy, food, balance, what’s actually important and what isn’t, and my own rules for living. As I challenged my thinking about these things, I instigated some major changes which have had a huge positive impact on my health. I haven’t had a cold since July (if you know me, you’ll know this is nothing short of miraculous) and I’ve recovered well from the slipped discs that made a mess of June.

Work

  • I co-chaired the Sixth New Librarians’ Symposium, which was no small feat, given that we did not use a professional conference organiser. Over the same period, I was also on the committee for ALIA Information Online 2013. Two conference committees, simultaneously, for conferences held in the same week. I won’t ever be doing that again! It was crazy, but fun, and definitely something I’m happy to see on the done list, rather than the to do list!
  • I committed to not taking on any external speaking gigs for the whole of 2013 and I stuck to it. Even though my default answer is generally yes. Even when I really *wanted* to say yes. This helped me to maintain my focus on teaching in Semester 1, and on PhD in Semester 2.
  • In Semester 1, I taught three units instead of my usual two. When you’re teaching a dual mode cohort (which takes a lot more time and energy than teaching only on campus or only online students), an extra unit makes a big difference to workload. But I did it, I enjoyed the teaching, and I still managed to get one of the three highest teaching evaluation scores in my school.
  • I co-authored a number of journal articles and a couple of book chapters, which will be published over the next 12 months or so.
  • With four of my colleagues, I have been editing a book on Information Experience and we got the manuscript off to the publisher in December.

PhD and sabbatical

My six month sabbatical kind of ended up being more like a four and a half month sabbatical by the time I had a week off-ish at the start, got over a bad bout of the flu, properly cleared the decks of work that was hanging over, dealt with unavoidable work commitments, worked on other publications, and then had a (very) little bit of time off over Christmas. I didn’t make my goal of having a complete draft of my thesis by Christmas. But here’s what I did do:

  • I completed the final round of data collection, which involved follow up interviews with a few participants.
  • I coded all of my interview transcripts in great detail. I coded the first six transcripts phrase-by-phrase and then I coded them another two times as I worked to get to a higher level of abstraction. I sorted codes and re-sorted codes and re-sorted codes and then eventually, after more than three months, I finished the coding.
  • I completed my analysis through the process of coding and writing up my 13 main categories.
  • I wrote upwards of about 50,000 words. This included 40,000 words of findings, a couple of thousand on my method chapter, and several thousand words of memos.

And that’s it! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but that just could be my inner productivity ninja looking at this list and thinking it’s not enough to have done in a year… Hmm. Now there’s a thought pattern I need to change!

my long overdue #acwrimo wrap up post

I started out AcWriMo with an ambitious plan: I was going to write 1666 words of findings every day in November. 50,000 words in one month, just like NaNoWriMo participants do.

The only problem with this goal was that I wasn’t actually ready to write on 1 November. I still had several transcripts to code and I was still integrating codes to form categories. It wasn’t until 11 November that I actually had my categories pretty sorted, but even then, I still had transcripts to code before I could write.

So in reality, the sun was setting on November before I got going on writing in earnest. That meant that in terms of writing, my AcWriMo really kicked off in late November and lasted until yesterday. But during November, I did do a lot of coding, analysis, synthesis and sense making throughout the month and I really feel like participating in AcWriMo spurred me on during this period of working intensely on figuring out what my findings look like.

Yesterday I finished writing up my categories, just over four weeks after I started. Four weeks ago, I had 17 categories grouped into three broad streams. As I wrote, I consolidated these and I ended up with 13 categories that formed part of a single core category. The category write ups on their own (excluding the write up of the theory and discussion of how the categories relate to each other, which I haven’t done yet) amounted to 40,016 words. I didn’t make it to 50,000 words on my findings chapter, but I did write just shy of another 10,000 words on other parts of my thesis. Although my month was more like six weeks, I did manage to hit my AcWriMo goal.

At the beginning of November I was panic stricken. I had two months left of my sabbatical and I hadn’t written a single word (well, apart from in memos). My teaching and service commitments for 2014 mean that at the end of January, I will no longer be able to do ‘thinky’ work on my thesis. I will probably manage revisions, but I need to have the hard stuff done. My goal of having a full draft of my thesis by Christmas was (and still is) completely shot and I thought I had no hope of getting a draft done by the end of January, either.

Now, I am slightly more optimistic. Assuming what I’ve written is okay (and I don’t know that yet – I’ve only just sent it to my supervisors for feedback), I may just make it. Or at least, I may be able to draft the remaining chapters, excluding my conclusion. What I won’t get done is revisions to my method chapter (which I wrote about 20 months ago for confirmation, and it needs updating) and I won’t have had time to incorporate any feedback. When I write about this, I feel pretty panicked. But the reality is, this is doable.

AcWriMo came at exactly the right time for me and the sense of community and accountability really helped. I get a lot of support from a friend who is at a similar stage in her write up, but AcWriMo added an extra layer.

But the single most valuable thing about AcWriMo for me was that I realised writing is bloody hard work for everyone – not just me. This realisation boosted my confidence and buoyed me up. So thanks, AcWriMo organisers, for making a real difference in my experience of writing my thesis.

my academic writing productivity pattern is shot

I’ve written about 40,000 words in the last four weeks. But I could have written more.

I have noticed a pattern and today, in one of my bazillion chats with my virtual office / PhD buddy, she articulated this pattern perfectly and I went “ohemgee, you’re right”.

The pattern goes like this: mad, crazy, frantic productivity > flailing about trying to be productive > complete lack of productivity > repeat.

I can write up to 4000 words in a day. (I know: I am very, very lucky.) But the next day, I invariably spend most of the day trying to get started and hating myself for my lack of motivation, my lack of discipline, and my ability to be busy doing nothing all day. So on day two, I rarely actually get any writing done.

And that’s a problem, because once I have a break from writing, I get stuck and I find it incredibly difficult to get past the inertia and get writing again.

Everyone talks about the sprint to the PhD finish line. And almost everyone talks about how it’s not actually a sprint, but a marathon. My problem is I’m attempting to run the marathon at sprint pace. So I’ll pump out 2000 or 3000 or 4000 words and at the end of the day I’ll practically fall over the finish line. The next day, I brush myself off and take another look at the finish line I crossed the day before and I realise it was actually a mirage, and the *real* finish line is about another million kilometres away. And then I am filled with despair over how much track lies in front of me so I stop and look for four leaf clovers. Then I crawl a bit more. Then I watch the crowd. Then I do some online shopping. Then the day is over and I’ve gone nowhere and I know that tomorrow the distance I have to make up is going to feel completely and utterly overwhelming so I’ll just do nothing and then that’s it!

I’m no longer running the race.

I stopped.

I have to go back to the blocks and start all over again. And that takes a whole lot of mental preparation.

advertisers, you’re wasting your money

There is something ridiculous happening in my web browser.

I keep seeing ads for products I’ve already bought.

Like the ad for the Herschel Supply Co Novel Duffel in Apple that I’m seeing based on the fact I’ve looked at it on seven different sites. Visiting seven different sites means I’m interested enough to shop around for a good price. And guess what? If I’m pursuing it that hard, I’ve probably already bought it. Why not show me the matching wallet instead?

And that dress I’ve looked at on Asos 12 times? I’ve already bought that too. In fact odds are, if I’ve looked at a particular item more than once or twice, it’s already winging its way to my post box.

But you know how I’ve looked at 12 different belts in the last week, and never the same one twice? That’s an indication that I’m after a belt and I haven’t found one that suits. Show me some belts and I might just buy one.

It’s so simple, really. Analyse my online window shopping and show me related or complimentary items, and your advertising dollars will have some impact.

Because right now, you’re wasting your money with the duffel bag ad. And out of frustration (and a need to procrastinate about thesis writing) I am clicking all these ads for things I’ve already bought. I’m spending your advertising dollars, one frustrated click at a time. Muah-ha-ha!

and on the 11th day…

She refocused. She being me, and the 11th day being yesterday.

I kind of lost my writing momentum a couple of days into #acwrimo. I got some feedback from one of my supervisors about my draft categories and I spent most of last week working with that. This initially involved playing around with pens and paper and thinking a lot about how my categories fit together to form a theory.

And then I spent a couple of days building my categories and sub-categories (and yes, there are sub-sub-categories here, but these aren’t really sub-sub-categories – just points I want to make sure to note in the discussion of these categories).

Spreadsheet of categories

And then I took this spreadsheet and built myself a new codebook in HyperRESEARCH (I’m planning a blog post on using HyperRESEARCH for coding in grounded theory down the track, because I’ve worked some things out that I would like to have known from the beginning).

Screenshot of codebook

Then I coded a couple of transcripts with my new codebook and I realised my findings are finally starting to sing. At long last, I am not adding stacks of codes to the codebook as I work. I’m no longer finding variation, but instead, I’m just coding up new examples. Cue overwhelming sense of relief.

A short-lived sense of relief, though, because yesterday I realised I only have six weeks left of my sabbatical. And a lot of writing to do. My workload next year won’t allow me to spend very much time on my PhD at all – if any. At least for the first half of the year. So I am pushing hard for the next six weeks to get my findings written and my lit review revised.

Yesterday, I did the last bit of work on conceptualising how my categories fit together. I refocused and revised my timeline as well as my practical plan for getting this thing done.

And on that note, I think it’s time to write.

why i don’t use public libraries and how they might lure me back

Disclaimer: this post is written by Kate-the-person. Opinions are all mine and my comments here are based on my own experiences as a public library user and do not reflect the views of any organisations with which I am affiliated. I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a loooong time because I’ve felt a bit hesitant about being critical. Which is really unlike me – If I’m anything, I’m the girl who says what she thinks. I think my hesitancy here has been that on a personal level, as well as a professional level, I love libraries and I love what they stand for. I also love the libraries in my city. They are well resourced and I have nothing but fond memories of the time I spent in them as a child… Anyway, I digress… My comments here are about public libraries in general, because I use / have used more than one public library service, and they are my personal opinions only… yadda yadda.

This post has been in draft for ages… Since June, actually, when a post from Hoi prompted me to start writing it. Over the last several months, a few things have prompted me to add to this post, and to publish it today.

The first prompt for this post was watching the Twitter stream for a future libraries event many months ago. As I watched the stream, I couldn’t help thinking: can’t we just stop talking about what the future library looks like and become the library our users need right now?

The second prompt was visiting the brand new public library near my house. It is an amazing space and I can see myself spending some time in this library, particularly in the awesome kids’ section, which features funky animals that are in fact chairs, a kid-sized nook that’s like a little reading cave, and a slippery slide. We loved it!

The third thing was a #ylibrary event at State Library of Queensland last month, which I watched via a live stream while I worked on this post.

And finally, the Queensland Public Libraries Association conference is on today and I saw some talk in my Twitter feed about wifi speeds and accessibility in public libraries. You can follow the conference with the hash tag #qpla2013.

So here’s the thing- the real reason for this post. As an individual, I actually don’t use my public library. Ever. Sometimes I use it with my niece and nephew specifically to do things with and for them, but I never use them for myself. I live in a city that has awesome libraries and awesome collections and I’m intimately acquainted with how good they are because I used to work there. As a rate payer, the service I value most from my local council is the awesome library service. (In second place: fabulous parks.) I have access to some of the best libraries with the richest collections in the country… And yet… I don’t use the libraries or their online collections.

I am a firm believer in the value of public libraries. I love them. I teach my students about them with enthusiasm. I believe they have an enormous role to play in supporting the leisure and lifelong learning needs of their communities. They prepare kids for success and make an enormous contribution to the economy.

As a child and a teenager, the public library was my second home. On school holidays, I’d go to the library with my grandfather. He’d read the newspaper, and I’d ‘do research’ on whatever my current interest was. As a teenager, I went to the library after school most days. When I started working in these libraries in my 20s, I worked with the librarian who ran the story times my grandfather took me too, and with the branch librarian who patiently helped me with my assignment research. When my niece and nephew were toddlers, we borrowed books from the library as a try-before-you-buy scheme. And the twins loved going to the library, especially the one with kids’ ‘puters’. I have so many good memories of libraries and I love them because they have been an enormous part of my life.

There are two things I want from public libraries: fiction ebooks, and fast, free, unrestricted wifi (preferably wifi I can use while I sit on a comfy lounge and drink a good coffee).

To make sense of my needs as a library user, there are some things you need to know about me.

Instant gratification

First and foremost, I don’t have a lot of down time, and I don’t want to spend the down time I have browsing physical bookstores or trying to find a car park at the library. I want to spend my down time (or some of it, anyway) *reading*, not trying to get something to read. I rarely go to shopping centres, instead I buy everything from clothes to homewares online. When I want to read a book, I want to read it right then and there, and I don’t want to have to hunt to find my next read. (Difficult to please, I know!)

E only

I only read ebooks. It used to be a preference, but now it’s a rule. I prefer to read on my phone or my iPad mini. I always have them with me. It used to be that I couldn’t buy all the books I wanted to read as ebooks, and that kept me going back to the public library even when they didn’t necessarily have the ebooks I wanted – at least it was something. But things have changed and I can now get almost everything I want, when I want it, from Amazon.

Good wifi

Finally, I work from home most days to avoid a long commute. Sometimes, I want to get out of the house to work somewhere different but I don’t want to drive for at least two hours (my commute time) to work in the office. The only thing I need to take my office with me is good wifi. (A powerpoint helps too!)

The ebook issue

I stopped checking to see if the library had the books I wanted in e because the hit rate was so low (and I should note here, I am a member of several public libraries so I was routinely checking multiple collections). I just can’t be bothered looking there and then ultimately having to go back to Amazon anyway. Then there is the issue with ebooks being ‘out on loan’ (ludicrous concept!). If I’m actively seeking a book, it’s because I just finished one and I need something to read. I don’t want to wait for the book to come in, and frankly, the fact that I have to really pisses me off. It pisses me off because it demonstrates just how broken ebook distribution models are for libraries. It’s not a physical item, for crying out loud! Why should it matter if someone else is reading it? Why can’t I read it too? (Yes, I know all the answers to those questions. But your average customer doesn’t. And nor should they have to.)

This is not something the library can fix – at least not at a local level. It’s a problem that libraries need to act on collectively. Libraries need to hurry up and get active on this or they will no longer be relevant to people like me – at least not in terms of their role as content providers.

Up the game

I think there are a few places where public libraries – all public libraries – could up their game and meet the needs of customers like me.

Fuel my consumption!

The library doesn’t encourage me to use the library. It doesn’t draw me back in. It doesn’t keep me in the loop on books I might like to read (at least not based on knowledge of what I *actually* read). In short, the library doesn’t keep data about my reading habits and consequently, it can’t exploit what it knows about me to keep me coming back for more.

Amazon knows what I read: what authors, what series, what genres. Amazon emails me recommendations. I don’t even need to think about what I’m going to read next because when I log on, Amazon tells me what I might be interested in. They alert me of forthcoming titles I can preorder. In an average month, I buy a minimum of three or four books. I aim to read one a week, but even when I’m not making that quota, I still buy anything that Amazon recommends that I want to read, so they’re sitting there ready to go.

Amazon fuels my consumption. Amazon knows me. I couldn’t care less that Amazon knows my reading patterns and habits and what I buy and how much I’m likely to spend and how long it takes me to read a chapter and whether I bought Fifty Shades or Anna Karenina. But libraries assume that customers *do* care how much ‘the system’ knows about their reading habits. They don’t keep this kind of data and they don’t exploit it. I know there are many, many complex reasons that libraries are cautious with user data, and I don’t mean to trivialise these reasons. In fact I value the effort libraries put into protecting patron data.

But the reality is, I like getting my books from somewhere that knows what I read and that pushes new books to me. I don’t want to trawl for ages to find something to read next. I just want to log in and hit that one click purchase button and get reading in a flash.

Can’t the library give me the chance to opt in to a recommendation service based on my reading habits?

It’s readers’ advisory at its personalised, targeted best. Customers expect it because they can get it everywhere else but the library. Libraries need to give this some serious thought. And if they decide not to store and exploit customer data, then they need to come up with another way to hook their customers and real them back in time and again.

Unthrottle the wifi

I don’t go to physical libraries for the collection. I go for the wifi, and let’s face it, not many public libraries do a good job of wifi. Connections are throttled, there are clunky password systems in place, and access is for a fixed amount of time. Hot tip, libraries: stop worrying about how much bandwidth your customers are going to use; stop worrying about how long they’re going to sit their for; stop putting up barriers to access by requiring passwords.

Libraries are about access to information and ideas. They’re about connecting people. They’re about facilitating lifelong learning. They’re about facilitating knowledge sharing and knowledge creation and creativity. Crappy wifi is not helping libraries realise any of these visions. All of the practices we have in place to limit access and restrict connection speeds are barriers that stop customers from doing what they need (and want) to do.

Am I a lost cause?

Winning me back as a user of the online library is not going to be easy. The ebook issue is a big one, and it’s not going to be easy to solve. Publisher, distribution, purchasing, licensing, lending… All of these models are completely and utterly broken. Libraries need to collectively get loud on this, and fast. Ultimately I’d love to get my ebooks from the library. I’d save $50 a month at least. But right now, I’d rather spend the $50 on a delivery model that meets my needs than save it and waste time – a rarer commodity – looking for, and ultimately not finding, the ebooks I want at the online library.

I can’t see the library collecting and exploiting data about me to offer personalised recommendations, the way Amazon does – but I really wish they would. I guess I could get around this – I could get my recommendations elsewhere… From GoodReads for example. But I want integration. I want to click straight through and borrow the book that’s recommended. I don’t want to jump through hoops and go round in circles. The fact is people like me will pay for books to avoid the hoop jumping. If public libraries don’t get onto this, they are going to lose people like me.

Getting me back into the physical library won’t be so difficult. I just need somewhere to plug my laptop in and fast, unrestricted wifi that I don’t have to jump hurdles to access. It doesn’t even have to be free. I’d pay for the wifi if I had to (though obviously I’d prefer not to). I know wifi is often restricted to avoid racking up a big bill, but perhaps we need to rethink how much funding we pour into this part of the business. Libraries are *information organisations*. Surely they should be hubs of good connectivity? In many cities I’ve visited, I can get better wifi with less barriers at McDonalds than the local public library (and I’m not just talking about guest access here – I’ve looked at access policies around the place and these issues exist for library members too). That is a *big* problem.

As a non-library user, I’m not a lost cause. But I am greedy. And I want more.

[PS. I feel the need to add a postscript... I edited about 600 words out of this post in which I waxed lyrical about comfy armchairs and decent coffee. The upshot of those 600 words was that I think the perfect public library looks a lot like the ground floor of State Library of Queensland. The only thing it's missing is a service that delivers your coffee so you don't have to pack up and go get it.]