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Ontario Library Association Con-Blog and Take-Away

(Link to Friday’s Presentation, Old Wine in New Bottles)

Friday and Saturday I presented at the Ontario Library Association “Superconference.” What a fabulous experience! Friday was one of my all-over-the-map talks about Librarians’ Index, audio ebooks, podcasting, the roles of librarians in society, and just about anything else I could shovel into an hour-long talk. The audience had what I think of as “bounce”–they responded well to my points, laughed and clapped, asked interesting and challenging questions, and made it fun and exciting to be presenting to them. Just aboot perfect, ay?

Saturday I had another great experience, this time on a panel about “top tech trends” with Roy “Digital Deity” Tennant and Art “Systems Dude” Rhyno. But never mind about me–you’ve read my trends, which you folks generated on this blog. It was delightful to be wedged between those two smart fellas, who kept the audience on its toes with trends ranging from digital rights management to ILS’s getting modularized. Cool beans, guys! If only it had been recorded… what a juicy podcast it would have made!

But the big conference moment for me–in current jargon, the “take-away”–happened in an informal talk with Patricia Moore, who works with Art. (Aren’t those moments grand? Once upon a time I was told 85% of all information transfer among scientists happens informally, and I believe it.) Borrowing an idea from marketing people, Patricia said that every new technology concept or idea needs a simple, non-technical summary that can be expressed in an “elevator interval”–the time an elevator in a conference hotel takes to get from the floor the boss is staying on down to the lobby level. (The elevator interval could also be the time it takes for you and the boss to walk to the boss’s car after a meeting, or one of those other quality times when it’s just you, the boss, and your Really Great Idea that needs some support, particularly the crisp green support.)

The elevator interval can’t just be brief; it has to be phrased in simple, non-geeky, user-centered language. What does the new tool mean for the user? What is it analogous to? What itch does it scratch? And just how does the lime get in the coconut?

If you tell your boss “the Sirsi ILS now generates native RSS 2 feeds,” the boss is going to smile uneasily and look the other way until the elevator doors open, and who can blame her? You’re speaking in Computer Klingon, and for that matter, you aren’t explaining what the service delivers to the user. Even geeks of an earlier generation might not pick up what RSS is enabling in this instance.

However, if you say “The latest version of our catalog software has this new, super-easy way for users to be notified, for example, when the library buys books they like,” there’s a better chance your boss will respond on the order of, “Get out! Really? Show me that as soon as we get back!” Don’t be too surprised if you later see your boss at the Sirsi booth, demanding a demo. Admins are practical souls, but they like nice tools, too.

When you cook up your elevator interval, try it out on non-techy library staff, family members, friends, grocery clerks, or anyone else willing to listen and see if they can rephrase what you said and share it back with you. In MFA terms, workshop it.

One more advantage to developing elevator intervals for new tools you want to acquire: it’s a great reality check for how well you understand what–if anything–the new tool actually delivers to users. Audio ebooks: I get it. As a vendor said the other day, “Listening is listening.” Podcasting, which in my elevator interval I nickname “folk radio”: I get it. It’s fun, diverse Web audio produced by the wanna-be-on-NPR crowd (or in some cases, such as On the Media, by already-got-there technosavvies). Orkut: I never got it. I don’t want or need a special website where I organize my “friends,” and I didn’t always want to be friends with people who contacted me–a sticky place to be in. So are you using Orkut much these days? I thought not. No one ever explained why we needed Orkut–and it’s because we didn’t need it at all.

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