Recent Events

Hacking Strategies for Library Innovation: The Tuesday Keynote

Mary Lee Kennedy

Mary Lee Kennedy

Mary Lee Kennedy, Chief Library Officer at the New York Public Library (NYPL) presented an inspiring keynote on hacking strategies for library innovation. She discussed these principles:

  1. We must look at what we uniquely bring to the environment in which we have a part, identifying the target areas of opportunity, what we will do best and what other people will do for us. The opportunity is the job to be done, not necessarily how to do it.
  2. We need to make changes and head off in a new direction even if we do not know what the output will be. We can make tremendous changes along the way.
  3. We need to have fun and take an example from children who learn without inhibitions and do not think about the consequences of failure.

The uniqueness of the NYPL stems from its existing user base, its community, and its role as a library. Its user base is the New York City, with 8.3 million people, about 5.4 million of whom use the NYPL. It is an extremely diverse environment; many languages are spoken in New York, and many people do not have English as their primary language. The library is part of a global community as well, and there is much it can be doing to offer its unique collections to it.

The NYPL is a public library. It is free for all to use–from the day of birth to the day of death. Everyone deserves access to information. The library is one of the only institutions where people walk in because they want to. It is part of a community that is being built as it progresses. We are hacking, building, and all moving together.

The NYPL is a library. For many people, libraries mean books, archives, images, documents. They have been around since Greek and Roman times and were places where people meet their friends and learn together. Thomas Jefferson said that libraries are the delivery room for ideas; now that includes digital media, data, and APIs.

NYPL Strategies for Innovation

NYPL Strategies for Innovation

NYPL’s strategies for innovation

The library has 47,000 data points on its users . But who is not using the library? The task is to understand the job people are doing and how the library can fit into it. Most people coming into the library are there to access something.

Libraries must do a lot with reading. Only 26% of the kids in New York in grades 3-8 met their language arts standards last year, so the library still has a lot to do.

We are embarking on changes in helping with learning: helping people learn English, using technology, how to code and becoming digitally fluent. About 20,000 kids come to the after school programs to learn, and we need to be even more innovative.

The NYPL has almost every record of performances in New York. But what can we do to help every human to express themselves with their creativity? To do this, the library must be much more of an integrated part of the fabric of the community.

The NYPL is going to continue to be involved with access, reading, learning, and creativity.

Specific strategies:

Make knowledge (not just information) accessible. Knowledge is social and is implicit in how we understand each other when we exchange information. For example:

NYPL map warper:  The library has 33,000 sheet maps. It must show students how each one relates to a specific part of the city and bring the map to life.

A children’s book application presents 100 titles for reading and sharing. Previously they were lists on paper, but now people can browse and visually see the books organized by age, genre, then click through and check out the book themselves. Once you create an opportunity, you need to iterate on it, assess it, and move on.

The Archives and Manuscripts department created a tool allowing one to choose an individual or organization, search across the 926 archival collections, and find where that individual or organization might be mentioned. Previously, it would have been necessary to access 926 finding aids to scan.

Turn the library inside out (maybe take the library out). We have thought about people coming to the library. We really need to think about where should the library be going. Some of the NYPL’s programs include:

  • Participate in a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. Find areas of need in Wikipedia: subject areas where the library has collections and areas where there is not much information.
  • Hackathons are growing exponentially and publishing information useful to areas of the world. How do we create communities where we can make sense of all this information? We must figure out how we understand and make sense of local knowledge. The NYPL has deep roots in its neighborhoods through its branches. We need to do more kinds of hackathons.
  • Zooniverse is creating a transcription engine for citizen science. The library can convene scientists, journalists, and others to make sense of all the information.
  • Schomburg Junior Scholars: Youths come and work with the original materials on African-American history and present events. The library becomes part of a larger community of actors, producers, and students.
  • Bit by bit collaboration is a two-day session where invited storytellers, journalists, and technologists were invited and asked to tell digital stories.

Spark connections. The library is all about connections: people to people, institutions to institutions, types of information to other information. We are part of a network ourselves, but we are not at the heart of every network. We are also part of a constantly evolving environment and need to focus on what we do best and what other people will do better (“other people” include nonprofits, local communities, cultural institutions, etc.). It is important to be aware of the context where you are working and the relationships.

ReadersFirst provides 292 public library systems with 200 million readers with information to make it easy for every person to read an e-book (which is hard today). They have issued a guide to library e-book vendors and are now working on an e-book API.

Broadband lending: About 27% of New Yorkers still do not have access to the internet. Some libraries will lend out “My-Fi” devices so people can take Wi-Fi home with them. The NYPL is collaborating with government and community leaders to make the internet accessible.

MyLibraryNYC is a relationship with the Department of Education which creates teacher sets for classrooms in collaboration with teachers and delivers the books to classrooms. It enhances the experience for teachers and students.

Know what makes you unique. Target your opportunity with your passion. Be the change, try it out, and learn from it, and move on. And have fun along the way!

Two librarians from the Upper Dublin PA Public Library (my local library) at the keynote: (L) Molly Kane and (R) Kathleen Brannon

Two librarians from the Upper Dublin PA Public Library (my local library) at the keynote: (L) Molly Kane and (R) Kathleen Brannon



Comments are closed.