The PLA Blog | Official Blog of the Public Library Association

A question and maybe an answer? The Exploratorium and Genre-X


A couple of weeks ago I wrote a little something about how librarians ought to look outside there profession for inspiration from time to time after I read about how the Walker Art Center is using iTunes U to distribute Walker content.  There is a flip side to this as well.  Public libraries and librarians are innovators as well, and it is equally important for us to write about, present, and share our work with other audiences.  Not only is this good advocacy, but it is very much in the spirit of librarianship to share the work you do.


Yesterday I got an email from my friend Lauren who works at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Exploratorium is “is an experimental, hands-on museum designed to spark curiosity—regardless of your age or familiarity with science.”, and the place really is awesome.  Lauren’s question:


“We’re looking to create programming for the lost museum-user demographic: 18-35 yr old single folk.  Unfortunately, research at the intersection of Adult Education and Museum Studies is pretty scarce, and information about incorporating social networking is non-existent in the museum journal literature (I’d love to find actual data about social networking).  Have you done research into getting 18-35 yr olds into libraries?  I think it could be translated to the museum setting pretty easily.  In a different vein of how I’m thinking about this project – can you think of program models that might be applicable?  Gaming and all that in the library has been successful, of course, but are there concrete models that might be helpful?”


I want to put this out there for everyone to react to and hopefully comment on.  Librarians, share your experience and expertise in these matters!  This is also a perfect opportunity for me to post about an awesome project aimed at that very demographic coming out of the Oak Park Public Library.  Maybe this can serve as inspiration for Lauren and the Exploratorium.  Sorry, this post is going to get long, but I’ve been waiting to find the right time to write about Genre-X and finally, the time has come.  Genre-X in their own words:


Genre X evolved because we identified patrons in their twenties and thirties as being a user group that we needed to target more effectively. We began brainstorming in the summer of 2007 to figure out the best course of action to meet their needs and naturally a book discussion was one of the first things we thought of. There were a few strong factors that we took into consideration before making our decision to hold the discussion off site and at 8pm:


* Many people work later than the usual 9-5 day and would need extra time to make it to the discussion.


* Some of these people might not even have time to make it home before attending. While refreshments are always appreciated, we thought it would be great if we could offer them the chance to have dinner while discussing their book.


* Due to the overwhelming number of activities/events that might appeal to this user base on any given day in the Chicagoland area, we realized that we would need to create a discussion group that would offer intellectual stimulation as well as an opportunity for fun social networking. We also knew at the time that this demographic was not heavily represented at many of our programs and that the library might not be

the most desirable location for them to meet in this fashion.


Thus we decided to “meet our patrons where they’re at” and hold our discussions in a variety of bars in the area. At first we were rotating for every discussion, but quickly we realized that most bars are a little

too loud for holding a solid book discussion. We were also more concerned with the venue’s proximity to public transportation in the beginning, but eventually we identified this as being less important than the venue itself. The Snug is a small room inside Molly Malone’s and has truly turned out to be the ideal location for our discussion. And it is less than half a mile away from the nearest El stop, which equates to about a 15 minute walk.


Before we even planned our first discussion we also brainstormed about how we would choose to publicize it. We knew from the start that the book discussion was probably just the beginning of what we hoped would evolve into a more diverse selection of twenties and thirties programming, so we felt strongly that we would need to brand ourselves early on to build a user base. Again we had a couple of reasons to support our decision that a blog would be the best method to go about doing this:


* We needed a way to reach out to this demographic outside of our internal print publicity and/or library web site. While plenty of people in their twenties and thirties do use the library, we really wanted to reach out to those who, for whatever reason, were not regular library patrons.


* Through our talks we also realized that we really wanted to reach out to those who might not ever be able to attend a discussion. And because we are all such heavy blog users ourselves, we knew that a blog would provide us with the best mechanism for delivering information to these people.


So we approached our IT department and our web master with our thoughts and they were very willing to work with us to make the genre X blog happen. Collectively we spent close to a month looking at different blog publishing applications and making decisions on how we wanted it to look. Since it was launched we’ve met with our web master a number of times to discuss tweaking it to make it more user friendly.


Since the blog’s inception we’ve had over 15,000 unique visitors and we’ve seen a steady increase in its usage every month. Our stats this year alone have quadrupled since January and it is by and large the most popular method of informing new members about the group. Because of its apparent popularity we have recently set goals for the number of times we need to post each week. So hopefully you will begin seeing new content on a more frequent basis!


It is important for librarians to take pride in the fact that we do good work, and to share it with others.  This is one of the reasons blogging is so important to our profession.  Creating good library programming for your local community is your job as a librarian, but when something works or doesn’t work the blogosphere makes it really easy to share that so that others can benefit from your experience.