Gaming the library (and going beyond just books and knowledge)

The Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory points out a fascinating part of Jerome Lettvin’s obitiary:

At MIT, his office in Building 20 was crammed with books, most overdue from the college library. Dr. Lettvin claimed he did not return them because the library would send him the students who wanted those books, and he would interview them as potential assistants.”

Jerome was gaming the library. He was holding onto resources that like-minded individuals desired in order to make professional connections. Cool.

Maybe the greatest part of libraries isn’t what’s in them, but the people that go to them.

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10 Comments on “Gaming the library (and going beyond just books and knowledge)”

  1. Matt Hauger says:

    Should libraries try to connect like-minded patrons based on their book interests? During my undergraduate years, I would have loved to know who else was checking out nerdy Greek and Hebrew reference materials.

    Of course, such a program would need to be opt-in (since some would balk at the threat to privacy).

    • I think this is an interesting idea. There are services like Good Reads that do this, but they aren’t location based. I see your idea as a great way to get people interested in libraries again. It’s kind of like a book club tied to a large repository of books.

      Opt-in all the way, but I really like the idea.

      Social networks for libraries?

      • Matt Hauger says:

        If libraries aren’t already scrambling to partner with Goodreads (or at least program to its API), they should be. Such integration would solve the problem that Dominika identified above, since the library would have access to Goodreads’ book review data.

        I’m not sure that social network integration could resurrect the American library, but… it couldn’t hurt, right?

      • The big question I have is: Do libraries have the technological wherewithal to do this? Do they even care about embracing technology (beyond the some-what bare minimum that the times require)?

        I’m stunned by how bad online book searching is for many libraries. That’s something that should have been up-to-speed years ago. Integrating with Goodreads seems far for them to go.

        I think better use of technology, social media and community are the best hopes for getting the library back into the hearts and minds of Americans. In terms of knowledge, the Internet has libraries beat. Amazon easily beats them on selection. But embracing the social and community potential of libraries might be the best hope.

        Libraries have traditionally been quiet places of solitude. Maybe ideas of making the library more social are crazy.

      • Matt Hauger says:

        ‘Crazy,’ maybe, but critical if this institution is going to survive. In a fantastic post, Seth Godin nails it (and agrees with you!):

        The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

        Viewed this way (and contradicting what I wrote above), a veneer of social networking can’t save libraries long-term. The visionary librarian needs to reclaim the library’s timeless identity: a particular community’s collaboration and information curation hub.

      • I really like Seth’s idea. I”ve actually had an idea for private libraries that functioned in much this same way. You’d pay money to be able to enter (or have a membership). It would have books and journals, but it would be focused much more on a place to go and interact with people, talk literature or politics or what’s going on in a community.

        It would be a place to go to work and be inspired. My mental model is based a bit on the Leaky Caldron from Harry Potter.

        I envision complimentary coffee, tea and perhaps light food. Much more of a strong third place that people would want to go to and connect with like-minded individuals than a conventional library.

        Why private? I guess I just remain unconvinced that public libraries want to embrace this model. Library funding is also on the wane. A great place makes for great collaboration, and that’s why a coffee shop with a sense of style and place is a better place to work than some drab, modern library.

      • Matt Hauger says:

        What about the librarian? Do you see room for an information wrangler at your ‘Leaky Cauldron’?

  2. Dominika says:

    Also would need to get people to review the books otherwise may be connecting people who get the same books, but one may hate all their books, and the other may love them! For me, I find it hard to review items consistently.

    • Goodreads and other services can supply this. I absolutely agree that reviews would be necessary. No need to connect someone who hates a book with someone who loves one!

      What if online technology + libraries = book clubs of the 21st century?

  3. Matt Hauger says:

    […] the library’s best resource was never its catalog, but its people. The visionary librarian must reclaim her historic role as the community’s information […]


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