in their flow

When I saw the Matrix for the first time, I was enthusiastic about it, but I don’t remember thinking it was particularly special.  We see almost a movie a week in the theater, and I had no expectation that this one was going to have any kind of intellectual staying power for me.  But for the next few days, I would catch myself thinking about it in slow times.  I didn’t think so much about the content of the movie – the matrix itself – but about the look and feel, the fight choreography, the art direction and the visuals. 

And then later, when we saw the Phantom Menace, I disliked many, many things about it.  I was surprised to realize that one of those things was — it just didn’t look very cool.  As important as the original Star Wars films had been to me, movies that looked like that just didn’t do it for me any more.  It wasn’t just The Matrix that led me to this, of course, and The Matrix itself references a bunch of other stuff that I also like, but something about it came together and pushed my thinking about what studio-produced action movies could be.

So I didn’t notice it until later, but I had taken the blue pill when I saw that movie.  Seeing it affected how I saw things from that point on.  This happens to me with other things too, especially things I read.  I read a lot of things every day, and take a little bit from this and a little bit from that.  But every once in a while I read something that really really changes the way I see almost everything else.  And most of the time, I don’t realize that right away.  I read it, think "that makes sense," and don’t really realize its impact until I notice that I’ve come back to it over and over again.

Lorcan Dempsey’s In the flow is one of those blue-pill readings.

When I first read it, I thought it was just a more nuanced and useful way of thinking about the idea that libraries need to "be where the users are" — a phrase that I have heard about one million times since becoming a librarian, but about which I am still ambivalent despite the repetition.  And on one level, it is a more nuanced way of considering that concept.  I pull it out frequently as a corrective when faced with a service idea that just doesn’t make sense to me — is doing reference via texting just being where they are?  Or is it being in their flow?  I think it might be the former.

Dempsey says there are two themes that recur in discussions about flow.  The first emphasizes being where they are —

the library needs to be in the user environment and not expect the user to find their way to the library environment

The second, though, goes beyond this –

integration of library resources should not be seen as an end in itself
but as a means to better integration with the user environment, with
workflow.

Being in the users’ flow isn’t an end in itself – it goes way beyond just being where they are.  To do it, we need to understand what our users are doing when they are where they are.  And to understand how they are doing it, what they are to do it, and what they would like to be using. 

The first time I saw something that really illustrated the difference between being in the users flow and just being where they are was when I read about the University of Washington Libraries’ putting links to their collections in relevant Wikipedia articles.  The other day, John Pollitz sent me a link to another.  This is totally awesome — the University of Oregon has added a button to their library catalog records that allows users to text the call number information to their own cell phones.  Jason Eiseman has a nice summary (with screenshots!) of it on his blog.  We talk a lot in higher ed about how all of our students have cell phones, they’re addicted to their cell phones, they’re never without their cell phones.  And that’s all true.  But they don’t use them for everything.  And this is a simple little thing that lets them use their cell phones in a way that they are already using them to do a thing that they’re already doing.  That’s being in their workflow.  That’s putting ourselves where they are in a way that makes sense.  And that’s just awesome.

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