And now for the final post in the Unprogramming trilogy! (See parts 1 and 2 below to bring you up to speed.) Besides giving me a place to set up the computer, my table in the lobby also turned me into the de facto library concierge for a couple of hours. People had questions about library operating hours, story times, computers, etc. I was able to either answer their questions or direct them to helpful branch staff members just a few feet away at the desk. What else did I do during that time?
Uploaded a picture to a patron’s myspace account
Talked about the pros and cons of switching to a Mac from Windows
Explained how to sign up for a Gmail account
Demonstrated how to import to iPhoto from Photo Booth
Gave directions to a different library branch
Looked up the title of book through the library’s website
Showed someone how to set up the iMac
I consider this experiment to be a successful one. Not every program has to be planned to death. In fact, sometimes the programs with looser parameters turn out to be more enjoyable experiences for everyone involved. I know that we cannot call every library program an “unprogram” and there is definitely a place in libraries for detailed, thoroughly planned experiences. But there is also a place for free flowing experiences that put the objectives and outcomes in the hands of the users, not the staff. I am already planning (err..unplanning?) my next unprogram.
One additional note: I realize that not every library branch or system has an iMac to use for programming. You can unprogram with technology (try iPods, digital cameras, scanners, podcasting, gaming, etc.) or without. The important factor is the engaging experience, not the use of cool tech toys.
I was eager to try a drop-in technology unprogram because of a recent technology infusion in our department. (If you’re wondering what in the world an unprogram is, take a look at the previous post for part 1.) My first drop-in tech session was a “Digital Photo Booth” using the iMac’s built in Photo Booth software. I selected this topic because it didn’t require much advance planning, the software is easy to use, and people love to have their pictures taken. What was my prep work prior to the day of? The only thing I did before the unprogram date was to sign up for a free Gmail account that I added to the iMac’s built in mail client. That allowed me to instantly send a person’s photo to an email address. In the description of the session I called this a “digital souvenir.”
On a recent Saturday I had the opportunity to give the drop-in unprogram idea a trial run. For two hours I parked myself (and the iMac) at a table in the lobby of the Beatties Ford Road library branch. One of the branch staff members sent a few people my way to get the ball rolling, and the unprogramming experiment was off and running. The actual setup was simple: Patrons stood in front of the iMac, I clicked the button to take a photo, and they instantly had a digital photo of themselves. That was just the hook, however, to get them engaged in the experience. If they wanted to know more about the iMac or try something else with the software, they were welcome and encouraged to do so. Several people asked, “Does it cost anything to take a picture?” and I enjoyed telling them it was free.
In the third and final part I’ll share how this experience moved further into the realm of unprogramming.
The Wikipedia article about unconferences includes the following principles of open source meetings:
1. Whoever comes are the right people.
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
4. Whenever it is over it is over.
I took two ideas from that list (one verbatim and the other slightly modified) as guiding principles for “unprogramming.”
1. Whoever comes are the right people.
2. Whatever experiences people have are the right experiences.
What is an unprogram? One of the concepts we have bounced around in our department lately has been the idea of self-directed or spontaneous programming. These would be sessions/times/happenings without any specific objectives other than to allow patrons the chance to have an engaging library experience (see unprogramming principle #2 above). Working with all of these ideas in mind, I decided to try an experiment. In part 2 I’ll tell you all about it.