On Libraries (3)

I’m sure this isn’t a new idea but I haven’t heard of it before. Manly library in Sydney is running a Lego in the Library event. Strikes me that this is a perfect fit with a key library audience (young kids) and also fits with the thought of developing a creative and inquisitive mind.

BTW, has anyone ever twinned public libraries in the same way that towns within Europe tend to be twinned? This could turn into a giant gravy train but done well it could be a great way of sharing ideas across cultures.

One other thing (for Steve). Yes, I am a reluctant futurist in the sense that I don’t necessarily think that every new idea (especially elements of digital technology) is good and I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to prevent the future. In the case of public libraries this means that, whilst I appreciate the benefits of technological tools in a public library context, I also believe that we should, in some instances, fight to preserve what makes libraries increasingly special, which is non-digital and non-distracting objects and environments. This doesn’t mean that computers, social media and so on are banned – very far from it – but there needs to be a balance between the old and the new.

But that’s just my opinion.

On Libraries (2)

This passage, also from Happiness by Theodore Zeldin, strikes a chord with me.

“A library was a place that suggested the most perfect order, with every book allotted its exact place, and a record kept of its every movement, in and out, and yet a library eventually converts its readers to the view that the world is not in perfect order at all, that most things are increasingly difficult to understand, that no two books ever quite agree; it seemed designed to be a polite hint that the god Chaos is still very present in the universe, unveiling new forms of chaos all the time. ….visitors who spent long enough in her library would become connoisseurs of misunderstandings, not just of authors and readers misunderstanding each other, but of the universal dither, of how people changed their minds about what they meant, of how words were used in ways no one could make sense of….a library was very far from being a place where nothing happened, for in it the world was rearranged a million ways; rigidities dissolved, and reformed and dissolved again; a library was a great mountain of lies as well of truth.”

A thought that occurs to me reading this is whether the universe is perfectly designed or not. On the one hand a beautiful order seems evident, especially in nature, while on the other hand everything seems to be in (or tends toward) chaos. The reason I bring this up is I’m wondering whether markets and politics are trending toward chaos or order at the moment. At a first glance chaos seems to be in the ascendant.

Why getting staff to do nothing can be good business

Here I am again, this time on Qantas QF31 from Singapore to London listening to Jeff Buckley (Grace) whilst looking out of the window at a marmalade sunset disappearing beneath a froth of white cloud.

My information purging experiment has been interesting. I have not looked at a newspaper for 3 weeks and my television viewing and internet use has been close to zero over the same period. As a result my data deluge has evaporated and my thinking about various issues has shifted.

I have suddenly had more time. I have become less distracted, more relaxed and more reflective. I am also more alert to people within my immediate vicinity and I seem to have become a magnet for serendipitous encounters. In short, interesting information and ideas have found me without me deliberately searching for them.

If you speak to management consultants they will use words like granularity to illustrate the importance of detail. This might be a good idea if your ambition is to fine tune a well oiled machine operating in a stable environment, but there is the danger of getting lost in detail and my recent experience would seem to suggest that what we might need is much more of the opposite, especially if your aim to build new machines to operate in unexplored and uncertain terrain.

What we need to do is focus more of the big picture, those tectonic plates that lie beneath our feet, but which have become largely invisible due to our fixation with daily minutiae. For example, in my view the media has become too obsessed with immediacy and ‘news’ over careful analysis. There is literally no time to think, or to create the conditions in which people will be forced to think, when we are plugged into live news feeds, status updates, friendship requests and Google alerts 24/7.

One of my serendipitous conversations last week was with someone in Sydney who observed that holidays were once places where people switched off and relaxed. This in turn enabled people to return to work refreshed. However, what seems to have occurred recently is that people are being forced to use their holidays to catch-up with work and to do the kind of deep thinking that is increasingly impossible at work. As a result people have next to no down time. They are tired all the time because they never switch off or disconnect and this is impacting not only the quality of their thinking and decision-making but also their relationships.

So what’s the solution? In my case a mixture of control, alt and delete.
I am going to get rid of various alerts, subscriptions and favourites and focus on a few select sources, most of which will be on paper in order to slow things down a little.  I am also going to continue with my policy of being unavailable at certain times and of frequenting certain places where mobile communication is either not allowed or is blocked. Some people will call me a Luddite for doing this, but at least they won’t be able to call me up to tell me in person.

As for organizations, I think that they will eventually see the dangers inherent in too much busyness, especially Too Much Information and Too Much Connectivity. They will slowly see the importance of sometimes doing absolutely nothing and it will dawn on them that policies will need to be developed to either limit the amount of work that employees are allowed to take home or mandate a certain amount of vacation time.

Looking out of more windows might help too.

On Libraries

Being less busy these past few weeks I have had more time for accidents. One such accident was the discovery of an old copy of Happiness by Theodore Zeldin (Collins Harvill, 1988- out of print) in a bookcase, from which these lines come. They seem to sum up what libraries are all about.

“In paradise libraries (whatever kind of books they contained) might be recognised as holy shrines. In any case, she always approached libraries with a special emotion, half way between reverence and delight. However humble, however small, however poor, they were the only abode of faith, of the only faith she had, faith in the future.

As a tourist, she always tried to visit the library of every town she passed through, because that was where, she liked to think, the spirit of the town lived, even if the town did not know it, even if for the vast majority of citizens “book” was a four letter word, even if the library was a bus and came only once a week. She was keen to know how paradise could improve on what she regarded as the perfect haven of peace.

But a library was where she went to reduce the chaos in her mind; she was puzzled to find one that prided itself of reducing life to chaos……..there should be a library in every shopping centre, in every park, just like a bench to rest the mind, just like a waste paper basket to through foul thoughts into, just like a telephone kiosk to prompt a conversation with neglected friends. She had become so enthusiastic about the virtues of libraries that she had come to think that a library could be made into the very heart, the motor of her machine for making freedom. For a library was one of the very few things that had to be free; it incarnated freedom; it was where the mind was most free, where time ceases to be oppressive, where no book is penalised for being young or old, for the colour of its paper or its ink, where each has an equal voice, undisturbed by examinations of its precise beliefs, where no reader is accused of poking his noise into matters which do not concern him, where there are no secrets, where no promises are extracted, except to respect the right of everyone else, and of the books, to be there.”