Friday, October 26, 2007

Wanted: Citizen-Reporters for library@orchard

I'm helping my colleagues with this event for library@orchard's closure/ relocation. Interested bloggers are invited to attend a "truly brief, briefing" on 30th Oct 2007, 7.30pm at library@orchard.

We'll have an honest discussion with you on why we're doing this, and what you're expected to do. I'm supposed to do the briefing. I promise not to ramble!

The library@orchard won't be "control-freaky" about you reporting for the library@orchard. You don't need to let the library vet your posts before publishing.

Oh, while the library would like to publicly acknowledge bloggers who are eventually appointed as the "official bloggers", you can choose not to reveal your real names (i.e. we'll consistently use your blogger identity if that's what you're most comfortable). Anyway, details will be at the briefing session.

If you're interested, feel free to write to the email address indicated below. Or you can email me if you prefer ( or

We'd be grateful if you can pass the message along as well (and thanks to the folks at Tomorrow.SG for highlighting the post).

From the library@orchard blog:

Calling for Citizen-Reporters for library@orchard

Be involved in the closure of the library@orchard!
From now until Nov 30, we’re looking for bloggers who are willing to act as Citizen Reporters.

Read on for more details!

Sounds interesting, what do I have to do?
We’d like you to report on events from now till our final farewell bash on Nov 30. Or you could write opinion pieces about the library, eg. your experiences (ok, so long as it’s not X-rated) in the library or what you hope it’ll be in 2 years time etc.

OR photoblog it etc. It’s kind of like “Save, i.e. preserve the library@orchard through photos, text, videos etc”, since the physical location will be gone.

Ok… so far so good, but what’s next?
You’ll need to attend a truly brief briefing on the 30th of Oct, 7.30pm at the library@orchard (RSVP by dropping an email to . During this session, register your interest with us. Upon confirmation, we’ll give you a pass when you are in the library, that identifies you as our Citizen Reporter. This will give you the ”licence” to interview people in (or staff of) the library@orchard, and even access our secret-secret workroom.

Har, must attend briefing??
Yah… We won’t vet your posts, photos or videos. However, the reason for organising this briefing is so that you’ll have a better understanding what we are trying to do and some of the concerns the library might have. Plus, it’s a chance to meet up and discuss stuff in person (we are nice people, ok). And we will feed you. With food.

What about the intellectual rights to my stuff? Will the library be control-freaky?
You can post your content to whichever site you want or upload it wherever you like. Just pass us a link or let us feature it on our blog and (potentially other publicity material) as well.

Riiiight… So! What’s in it for me?
We’ll credit your names/blogs in our official press releases (if you’d rather not be featured, that’s cool too). And you’ll get guaranteed invites to our farewell party (limited space available ah). Oh and also tokens of appreciation just for bothering to blog about the library@orchard.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What I would tell the librarians

At my previous post on what Shel should tell the librarians, Shel wrote: "What would YOU say to them, Ivan? You know more about it than I do. Post it here and I will tell the audience where I got it from."

Heh, OK. Just for laughs, I'll write as if I'm giving that speech (Shel didn't say I couldn't ramble...)

BTW these ideas, on Public Libraries in particular, are very much influenced by my working in the National Library Board for the past 11 years (see also: NLB strategic plans for 2000 and 2010). The views expressed here are strictly my personal interpretation; they don't represent my employer.


I'll make four general statements:
  1. Libraries don't survive because they are "libraries". They ultimately survive because of what Librarians do.
  2. Libraries have to act and think like a Business. Businesses survive so long their products and services stay in demand. They survive when they adapt to competition.
  3. If libraries are businesses, then librarians should be Social Entrepreneurs. Our common business will be as Social Levelers.
  4. This "Social Leveling" will come from public libraries being used to support formal and informal learning. I envision Public Libraries to become "Centres for Life Long Learning for the General Public".
Here are further ramblings (they don't necessarily address all four points, but hey I'm not really giving the speech):

The library as a Business
Libraries face competition, just like any business (btw, Meredith Farkas already summed up the "Why" very nicely in the preview chapter of her book 'Social Software in Libraries').

Businesses have to make a profit (i.e. any gain in excess of expenses) to justify their existence. I don't see a dilemma of Public Libraries being a Public Good and it being a Business. "Profits" is not limited to just monetary.

I think successful libraries world-wide are already managed like that. They are funded by the government (or local authorities) to deliver a social good, and they are managed like a professional business unit.

It's pointless for librarians to insist that public libraries are important and must be kept alive, when its clear that customers are not using them.

Businesses don't appeal to the community on why they should be kept alive. They act to keep themselves in business.

A business, when faced with that situation of falling sales and profits, will have to act boldly. It could be layoffs and cost-trimmings -- though in my opinion, a great business would already have kept costs low, and will rely on innovation for long term capacity-building rather than short-term cost-savings.

A business that's wired to survive will have to look at fundamentals like employee compensation and rewards, organisation culture, policies and management, customer relations, and product/ service quality, to name a few.

Same applies to libraries.

Public Libraries and social media
Social media (like blogs, podcasts, Youtube) are for socialising. Libraries should start "socializing" using that media.
  1. Start by reading blogs, watching videos, listening to podcasts that OUR CUSTOMERS are publishing
  2. Comment on their work (identify ourselves as librarians and engage our customers as individuals)
  3. Finally consider if the library should start using social media, to become producers or Producer-Consumers.

The "consumer" part is important as well. Libraries also have to constantly read and comment, rather than just pushing out information on our blogs to say, "Read this". I believe we have to look around and say, "Hey, I like what this reader has blogged about".

What should libraries do, if books become digital?
The public library is a public good. Doesn't matter what form the books are. We just have to offer digital books as a public good.

It's definitely less straight-forward than offering print, because of copyright and rights management issues relating to digital media. But not insurmountable.

When push comes to shove, I'm sure libraries and publishers have to work together to continue offering a public service (via the public libraries). We have to.

How can libraries use social media to attract and engage young people?
It's not about USING social media per se.

I believe the "How" is to first acknowledge young people as individuals. This is true whether we use social media or not.

There are experts out there who can tell you more about teen psychology etc. My point is that to attract and engage young people, it's fundamental to understand what they want and need at that stage of their lives.

Sometimes what they want and need runs contrary to what libraries are traditionally providing. For example, young people want to socialise and chat. They want to date. They already do that in our libraries without borrowing a book.

So why should libraries provide physical spaces just for young people to use the furniture and not read?

That's where social media comes in.

Librarians should use social media and act as Connectors for young people. We help connect young people to other young people. Or to other adults for that matter.

But will libraries become social services?
At this point, I always get asked, "Will we end up as social services? Then how are we Librarians?"

My answer: If we see our jobs as connecting People to Information, then why not look at information that's residing in other people?

I mean, young people are already able to access information (i.e. the Internet and DIY database searches). They are already connecting themselves to information using the Internet. Increasingly, I don't buy the argument that Internet sources lack credibility or aren't as authoritative as print.

What librarians can offer is perhaps efficiency in searching (I dare not say "effectiveness" as that's subjective). But there's only so much to argue for efficiency. And young people generally have more discretionary time.

My gut feel is that by positioning librarians as Networkers and Connectors, we will make the profession more relevant, and we will ultimately help connect peopel to information.

I've no studies or statistics to prove to you, other than sharing this personal example: after I started blogging and identifying myself as a librarian, I have students asking me various questions (not necessarily about books or library services). Anyway the point is that I've made myself more accessible. And where appropriate, I'd suggest who the students can speak to (whether it's a colleague or contacts I know).

And I learned of this recent example: the owner of a cafe in Singapore created a Facebook group and organised a meetup. Now, what if it was a librarian who did that? (Incidentally, the cafe is located in the library@esplanade, so his meetup probably brought some users to the library -- an example of a synergistic partnership there).

Social media is a reality
Libraries -- and more important, librarians -- have to adapt to that reality. By "adapt", it doesn't mean jumping on the band-wagon and starting blogs or doing podcasts.

As with all things in life, first we try to understand with an open mind.

We have to try and understand what makes people take up social media. Then we see how it can be relevant to what the profession wants to achieve.

Once we are in it, we should make ourselves part of the community.

It's pointless to start jumping into Facebook or blogs if we only know how to use the tool, but not appear as genuine and sincere community members.

It's easy to learn how to start a blog. Or sign up for a Facebook account. But it's less easy to teach how one can connect as a blogger, or with other Facebook users -- in the context of providing library services.

Do the Simplest Thing Possible (STP)
We should try to be a part of that community by doing the "Simplest Thing Possible" (STP), within our means.

This STP could be to leave comments on blogs, rather than start a blog.

Or libraries could engage practitioners and experts to teach the wider community on the use of social media (e.g. how to blog, or how not to get fired when blogging).

It's less about "understanding the technology" but more of "understanding what makes the community tick".

The End


If you've not fallen asleep with my ramblings by now, I've dug up a few of my older posts on the roles of libraries and librarians:

What should Shel tell the librarians?

My author and friend, Shel Israel, and I have been trading emails for the past few weeks. He wanted my thoughts on libraries and social media. He'll be addressing the librarians at the California Association of Librarians conference in about a weeks time.

I'll wait till after his speech before posting what he and I have been corresponding. Don't want to steal his thunder, so to speak, heh.

Meantime, it's not too late to let Shel know what he should tell librarians about libraries and social media.

BTW, I found the comments left at his blog post a fascinating read.

Like this one from Shawn Lea suggesting -- tongue-in-cheek -- that libraries have a "Twitter site exposing local cads who don't pay their library fines". LOL.


It just occurred to me that while Shel could tell librarians about Social Media, he probably should say the same thing to library administrators. Especially decision makers who fund libraries.

Librarians alone embracing "Web 2.0." isn't as effective as librarians working with decision-makers who might fund those efforts. Even if there's no funding, having some moral support, if not an executive direction, goes a long way.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Princess, the Witch, and the PowerPoint

Excellent work by Coleman, to weave a story rather than just tell people about the finer points of making better powerpoint presentations. I was entertained, all 10 minutes of it!

Link to Coleman's blog post | the video (courtesy of Kevin Lim).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Birthday Song: Library@Orchard

I'm still getting a buzz from Jeremy's Birthday Song for library@orchard. It was one of those "I'll just try my luck and see if anyone responds" emails to the group. Jeremy did, and I'm grateful. Hope that Jeremy is still on speaking terms with me, after I gave him a shock by submitting his post to Tomorrow.SG.

Since he was game enough to try, then I should do the same. To even up the score a little, so that he has less reasons to kick my butt at the next Songcraft meetup. LOL

Here's my Happy Birthday library@orchard song:

powered by ODEO
[Listen/ download at]

I referenced the guitar chords for the "Happy Birthday" song from this webpage.

Then I adapted Jeremy's lyrics:
So it’s your birthday
And you’re eight years old now
Blow out the candles
Make a wish, take a bow
Even though you leaving
I still think you’re great
For you’re the land of the written word
You’re the Library@Orchard

Happy Birthday to you (repeat)

That's my contribution for the Happy Birthday library@orchard meme. I wonder if anyone would pick this up.

And thanks again, to Jeremy for taking the lead.

Creative Commons License

This work by Ivan Chew is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. For permissions beyond the scope of this license , please contact via

RamblingLibrarian's Podcasts:
My Odeo Podcast

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Blogger dedicates a birthday song for library@orchard

After I published the "Happy birthday, library@orchard" post, the proverbial light-bulb went off in my head.
Birthday = Birthday Song = Songcraft

So I dropped a note to the Songcrafters and asked if anyone would like to compose a birthday tune, which I would gladly forward to my library@orchard colleagues. About two days later, Jeremy came up with this tune: "You're The Library@orchard (Happy Birthday To You)":

powered by ODEO

[Song/ Lyrics at Jeremy's blog | Link to Jeremy's Odeo page]

Jeremy added: "(P.S. Ivan, this little song is just for fun only. Please don’t mention this to your colleagues ok?)"

But little did he know that my library@orchard colleague didn't need me! My colleague, Jillian, found her way to Jeremy's blog on the same day (see the 3rd comment)

Jeremy requested that I don't tell my colleagues at library@orchard. I didn't. I told the whole of Singapore Blogosphere via Tomorrow.SG instead!"

He just sent the songcrafters an email. Said he was horrified to know that his song has been Tomorrowed.

I decided I could risk it. It's a nice song. It should be shared, Jeremy. Maybe I'll do a song too. Start a meme... now that would be really cool.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Happy birthday, library@orchard

The library@orchard will turn eight this month. You might want to leave them a happy birthday greeting.

In a recent talk I gave, about one-third said they didn't know library@orchard had a blog. And they thought the library was already closed.

I'm not surprised relatively few Singaporeans are aware of the library@orchard blog (and all the NLB library blogs, for that matter). But that's the nature of blogs, if you ask me. Generally speaking blogs are good for attracting a specific niche of audience. Not everyone who go online are interested in say, what's happening to library@orchard.

But for those are want to stayed informed after the library closes and moves to a new site, the blog is a useful information source. It's an official source, but not official-sounding.

OK, what's the Return-On-Investment (ROI)? (as some would inevitably ask).

Let's say the library@orchard blog gets around 50 unique visitors a day (just my guess and not an official statistic). That number may not be fantastic but that's 50 more people the library wouldn't be able to reach once the library is closed (the NLB website is too cluttered and not easy to post frequently).

Even if that number is halved for the next two years (during the relocation), we're talking about 18,250 unique visitors in total (25 visitors x 365 days x 2 years). That's a good number, relative to the costs of maintaining the blog.

Costs like staffing and hardware are Sunk Costs. There are no specific costs just for that one blog (at least to my knowledge). So there ought not to be any additional expenses to maintain the blog once it's up.

In fact, there's also the continued library@orchard branding, the "online presence" and the goodwill being sustained with the blog. If we factor that all in, the costs are even lower.

One more thing -- my colleagues and I have this idea of inviting "citizen-reporters" to cover news leading up to the day of closure. Details are still being worked out but I can share that those who volunteer will get an inside-look and access to areas normally out of bounds to the public.

We're not looking for "Top-bloggers" (they are always welcome, but not our aim). We're not that particular if you "can't write well".

We're more interested in those who are passionate about promoting reading and learning to Singaporeans.

If you're residing in Singapore and you're interested (or know of someone who might be), please email me - or

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talk & workshop: "Introduction To New Media Communications" Course

Just finished adding the finishing touches to my slides for a seminar organised by the Civil Service College.

It's a two-day event from 11th to 12th October 2007 (course details here; also posted here):
"Introduction To New Media Communications" Course
The Civil Service College is pleased to launch a 2-day course that adopts an interactive and hands-on approach to explore key issues related to using new media as a communications tool.

Day 1 provides an overview of Singapore’s new media scene, and features industry practitioners and public service agencies that have implemented new media communications initiatives.

Day 2 takes a hands-on approach in helping participants understand the culture of new media through the process of creating content for new media platforms such as blogs, YouTube podcasts, and Wikipedia.
Will be speaking on Day 1 (about NLB's new media initiatives) and conducting a workshop on Day 2 (on podcasting and podcasting).

I'm just one of the six speakers/ trainers. I'll be in the company of knowledgeable and experienced individuals.
Not to mention that I'll be sharing and learning from the 20-plus participants (who come from varied backgrounds and experiences, from various government agencies).

The programme is an intensive one. So I'm glad we have a reasonable number of participants to work with.

The session will be held at the Singapore Management University. Will be my first time there.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Kevin starts an online campaign for a USD$10K blogging scholarship (or "Why I think he deserves to win")

Kevin emailed us about a Blogging Scholarship. I thought he was kidding. He wasn't. Seems there really is such a thing. He wrote that his friend won it last year.

He doesn't think his chances are good at winning the scholarship. But he's trying for it anyway. Kevin's started an online campaign. A Facebook group. A YouTube video. Getting his friends to blog about it.

I commented at Kevin's blog that I voted for him not because of his video, nor his Facebook presence. Not because he's a fellow Singaporean. Not because he's the apparent underdog. I voted for him because I think he deserves the $10K scholarship.

I've read the blogs of the nominees. They all seem like worthy winners.

I voted for Kevin because I know him. He's my friend. I don't really know the other people. So it may be down to "who knows more people".


Honestly, in looking through all the other bloggers (I skimmed, Siva -- heh), there are better writers than Kevin.

But Kevin seemed to be the only one who has taken the Openness and Social Engagement aspect of blogging to the next level. He has leveraged on social networking tools. His video asks you to be a participant in how he will end up utilising the scholarship money. The other nominees -- as far as I can tell -- have only blogged about their nominations.

Anyway, best of luck, Kevin.

One more thing -- if you do win, use it for your education.

Saving the world can come later. :)

Monday, October 08, 2007

I Can Only Imagine

John Yeo, whom I met at the last CSC talk I gave (and resurrected his blog), sent me this video:

It... is good.

Had this thought about the video. It's probably what no father would want for his child. But what all children would want from their fathers.


The wind seems to be blowing dust into my eyes.. I thought I closed the windows in the room.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Announcing the SeaStars 2007 Album blog (and how it became more)

At this previous post, I mentioned how a long-lost friend and I were working on a collaborative music album project.

Exactly a week ago (Sept 29th), I created this blog:
screenshot - SeaStars Album 2007 blog

Before Adrian and I told anyone about it, three days later I received an email from Jeremy (of Songcraft). He found his way to the SeaStars blog by checking his blog stats (incoming links). He emailed me some questions. Adrian said to go ahead and reply.

I decided to blog our response (thanks to Jeremy for giving our amateur efforts a positive nudge. Also Siva's post).

Next is what I felt was the most interesting development to date.

After I posted the interview, I emailed the page URL to some contacts to share more about our music blog. A mutual friend of ours, Ms. November Tan created a fanclub in Facebook (Adrian knows and has met her before while I only know her from email interactions).

Within 8 to 10 hours, I saw that the fanclub had 23 members already. From November's and Adrian's invites, I suspect.

With a fanclub manager whose name is November Tan, how can we not be popular?! LOL

screenshot - SeaStars 2007 Album Facebook Fanclub

As I post this (maybe 24 hours after the facebook group was created), the members have grown to 63.


I shall blog about some observations and reflections, in the next post.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Why we have library blogs

[The following story has been embellished but it was based on a true encounter.]

"Why do we (the library) need to have blogs?" a colleague asked.

All eyes in the room looked at me expectantly.

It was a logical, valid and innocuous question. It swept me off my feet. I felt my credibility at stake. It was a fundamental question that determined the outcome of the rest of the meeting (I was trying to show them that their blogging efforts -- for the library blogs -- was making a difference).

I mumbled a few words but shut-up almost immediately. Their eyes told me I was losing them.

Went over to the laptop on the meeting room table. Fired up Google. Typed in "spicy chicken broth". Hit 'Search'. Mentally crossed my fingers. Wasn't quite sure what to expect.

There was a noticeable tension in the room. It got so quiet that I could hear the soft mechanical whine of the laptop fan.

"Come on Google, don't let me down," I prayed.

Then Google spoke.

It displayed the first ten results (of the one million eight hundred and sixty thousand items it found, in zero point four seconds).
screenshot - "spicy chicken broth"

The fifth item. The link brought me to our blog.
Blog header - ASK! weblog

I turned around and faced the room.

"That's why."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Facebook at work: Address the cause, not hide the symptom

The social networking site, Facebook, seemed to have gained notoriety of late. I thought Sandra Leong's article* in the Straits Times summed up the issues concisely (hat-tip to Benjamin, who incidentally had this to say about the issue).

Seems to me the issue could be summarised from this quote:
For now, the debate on whether staff should be given free rein in cyberspace boils down to: Lax IT policies leave the workplace open to abuse, versus: workers shouldn't be nannied, but trusted to do what's best for them and their company.

Which made me read up articles from sources like (Canada): "Facebook banned for Ontario staffers" (3 May '07) and "Worries follow rise of Facebook" (4 May '07).

Bloggers like Canadian Rex Lee (on 17 May '07) made an intelligent argument why he has no problem with Facebook being banned at work:
Providing a means for self-organization, empowerment, employee engagement, or alternate communication means shouldn't be mistaken for providing the employees the right to do anything they want. Enterprise 2.0, should be about employee engagement and collaboration. It's not about anarchy. If one can't make a strong argument on the business value provided by a set of actions, then an organization not only has the right to question the activities, but has the obligation to shareholders (or taxpayers) to do so.

Earlier than that, bloggers like Neil Kennedy made observations that Facebook was moving beyond schools and into the workplace (26 Apr '07). It appears that the strategy is deliberate (btw, I followed the conversation from Neil's blog to Justin Smith, who explained in his About Page that his blog is "an independent blog ... focusing on Facebook and the Facebook Platform")


My objective take on the banning of social networking services like Facebook:
  1. Social networking services have "value" to organisations
  2. But it's important that this "value" is recognised by the organisation, i.e. fits the definition of "value" for the organisation
  3. The concept of "value" is subjective
  4. The employer has the right to ban or restrict services like Facebook
  5. But do it only after throughout through consideration what that particular social networking service can do, and how it's being used
  6. It is also up to employees (who feel strongly about the ban) to present the case for not banning the service
  7. If your employees prefer to -- or have the time -- to "play" with Facebook (or similar services) rather than do their work, maybe it means you need to redesign work to make them more engaged.

But... that's just me trying to be objective.

If I had to make a stand on the banning of Facebook, I say banning Facebook is an effective SHORT-TERM solution but wouldn't solve LONG-TERM problems.

The larger issue isn't about Facebook or whatever social networking sites that come (and they will come). It's about employee's ethics, performance management, motivations etc.

I agree with Ben when he says it's a "Human Resource issue".

Let's go back a few years ago. There were reports about Internet Gambling at Work, and how Internet Use Tops Time-wasting Tasks.

Then also a time when Email became such an integral part of work that guidelines, like this one, were produced. Also books like this one. And even workshops and seminars:
NLB Call No.: 004.692 CAV -[COM] (Computer & IT section)
ISBN: 0-471-45738-8

The Internet wasn't banned. Neither was email (though I'm sure some people look forward to banning emails at work. Or at least from their bosses, LOL!)

If you ban Facebook because its use resulted in IT-security breaches, then maybe it's a logical and correct decision.

If you ban Facebook because some employees are misusing organisation time and resources, you're better off counseling or removing those employees. Because if it's not Facebook, they will be misusing something else.

If too many employees are doing the same thing, well it seems like it's a social problem and one that affects other organisations too. You could ban it and probably solve nothing. Or just go with the flow.

But I'd draw the line when employees use services like Facebook for personal gain, at the expense of the employer (e.g. posting their resumes, or networking for personal rather than organisation benefit).

Maybe I'm being naive. But I feel if social networking applications like Facebook helps the employees become happier employees -- without affecting their work -- why the heck not?

But if they let "play" affect their work -- and they do nothing about it -- then show them the door.

* See "We're (Net)Working: Does virtual sheep-throwing have a place at work? The rise of Facebook has made employers address the issue of cyber-loafing in the office", The Straits Times, 30 Sept 2007.