Friday, September 21, 2007

Libraries 2.0

Transformation starts with language. That was why Lovemarks had to be Lovemarks, not Brands More or Brands Plus. Come up with a big idea and bring it to life with a name that is provocative, bold and risky. The London borough of Tower Hamlets got it back in the late 1990s. They’d done a large scale survey and found that fewer than 3 in 10 residents used their local libraries, and worse, that most of them didn’t even like the idea of a library. They thought libraries were fusty, old fashioned and not for them.

From this bracing reality check the borough came back strong. Not only are they now in the midst of transforming their library buildings, they are reinventing their funding model to include corporate partners and more conventional public sources. Now here’s the language part - they have renamed libraries as Idea Stores.

An Idea Store is like a contemporary bookstore mashed with an Internet café, art gallery, community center, music store and video rental place. There are now eight of them in communities and shopping centers throughout the Tower Hamlets. Great places to meet, hang out, get informed and be entertained. Strong branding, stylish furniture, wider aisles, access to lots of useful services and books, of course, as well as CDs, DVDs, free Internet, etc. The Idea Store concept thrives in a sisomo world and screens are integrated into every part of the building. Many stores or shops could do well by having a close look at this model. Human beings are messy animals. Anything that goes in straight lines tends to run into barriers. We like to mix and match, cut and paste, and mash different ideas together to create new experiences. In the Ideas Stores a whole heap of “bests” have been drawn together brilliantly.

One disappointment. The Idea Store website is a let-down. Not a hint of sisomo sizzle. The Ideas Store of the future does not need an institutional-style website modeled on the past. Trust me.


Susan Plunkett said...

Ok, an occasion where I may have to allow room for the title to persuade me. It's the 'store' element that doesn't quite sit with me because of it's commercial orientation and libraries are intended to be a public and relatively cost free service. 'Repository' is's just too. I have heard your explanation of the varied options available at the 'store' and will see how that sits in time. I must say though that Australia really doesn't have any of the NY and American style bookstores where you can sit and ponder pages over a coffee. This is a cultural gap I've not leaped across as yet. I love libraries and I do know that on some things I will cling to tradition. I think I feel this way because so often I have observed that very good traits and elements are thrown out along with change. I think that often problematic and unfortunate. Sometimes I want to feel 'safe' with the change e.g. in this context, that all the classics and international fiction won't suddenly disappear because they aren't as popular as romance fiction or that librarians will lost their traditional expertise of book knowledge and become as badly informed about 'product' as we observe in retail outlets (discussions here of late).

I commented on my blog the other day about why I hadn't been able to Lovemark a book store. Considering that books were at one stage the only regular item I bought aside from food, that issue stood out to me. It is largely archaic databases and resulting poor service that holds me back. I love the product but not the conveyor of the product

It doesn't surprise me to hear that the website is not pacing with the concept. Public funding is always slow on this and how many inspirational models exist. I find many national library sites more difficult to navigate than they should be and yes, I admit, the cobwebs are evident.

Isn't there a major library in Dubai or similar where the philanthroper set out to have a copy of every book in the world in it? I wonder what that website would be like given what we know about that area of the world and how pace setting they can be.

As an adjunct, I have a very old book I wanted to see in a better atmosphere than I could provide it with. I wrote to 3 major libraries here about it knowing none had it. I also knew another person with a collection of similar works and the 'whole' could have been a beautiful resource. Not even an answer.

Susan Plunkett said...

In other words, the Ideas Stores are cultural villages without, at this point, a decent mechanism to view and visit the village from another geographical point.

Li Ling Ng said...

It's interesting to read that they've tried transforming themselves into Idea Stores, just to get more people through their doors.

I've always thought of libraries as the best places to "shop" for ideas :) It's like having a bottomless supply of ideas or anything that can be put onto paper (or tape or CD or video).

It's great to be able to be let loose armed with an "unlimited charge card" (library card) and shopping basket (which Wellington City Library provides!). And it's all free!

Kevin Roberts said...

Li Ling Ng - Agreed, there are a growing number of libraries doing what Idea Stores do and Wellington is a really good example. Another one near Wellington - Pataka has been doing this for about ten years – art gallery / library / museum / café / performing arts center… Sometimes a brand overhaul is required to change a commonly held perception of what libraries can offer – hence ’Idea Stores’.