Educators That Rock!: David Lee King
David Lee King by Amy Miller Photography.
In Topeka, Kan., the library is the second favorite place for teens to hang out. “We’re sort of kicked out at the mall,” they tell David Lee King, the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library’s digital branch and services manager. As a result, the building, particularly the new media area and gaming room, are a little noisier than your average library. But King, a former DJ and assistant recording engineer, and now an author, blogger and librarian thought leader, takes pride in all the bustle. “Not too many people can say, ‘Yeah, teenagers think that the library’s cool.’”
On Oct. 28, King is launching the Library 101 Project with fellow information specialist Michael Porter. The project will include a music video, educator essays and 101 resources.
fE: Why did you choose to become a librarian?
DLK: I was actually in Nashville, Tenn., working as an assistant recording engineer. We [my wife and I] wanted a bit more of an actual paycheck. I got the book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” and looked through that and realized when I was in college, I really liked researching my papers. Something sort of clicked and I thought, “You know what? I could do that for a job.” And so I went to grad school to get my library and information science degree. I got my first [library] job in 1995. My library didn’t have a Web site, not many people did. So I helped build it and just kept building from there.
fE: How important is it for librarians to network off-line?
DLK: I think that is one of the most important skills librarians need. Not just when people come into your library or on your Web site, but outside the walls of the library. We need to be noticed. [W]e’ve got to be able to talk to people with streaming [media], and connect to people with Twitter, or with Facebook status updates or videos on YouTube. It’s not so much about performance as it is about connecting with people who are watching you on the other side.
fE: In your book, “Designing the Digital Experience,” you spoke about creating and targeting an audience for your Web site. What is your target audience?
DLK: Our library as a whole recently did a GIS [Geographic Information System] study. If you get a library card, we know your name, your address, how old you are. We put that data into a database and did a mash up with government census information.
What we discovered was that our biggest growth potential are people that are maybe 45 years old, married, have teenagers. They own a couple acres, and don’t really drive 20 or 30 minutes to use the library. That’s 25,000 people. So what we’re going to try to do is focus some of our services on a new version of our Web site on that group.
fE: Your book also explained that one method of tailoring your site to your audience was to create a persona. How would you define a persona?
DLK: It’s basically a fake person. Instead of saying the average person that comes to our site is a 35-year-old mom, we would create someone named Christie who’s married, has three kids, has a part-time job, likes to do these [certain] types of activities. Then you use that persona to develop your Web site and focus all of the design and content on that persona.
fE: In your book you also spotlight Build-A-Bearville, Amazon, eBay, and Facebook. What do these sites do right, and what ideas from these sites have you adopted for your own library’s site?
DLK: It isn’t so much a design thing—it’s how they’re connecting with people. Our Web site is blog-based and what that allows us to do is start conversations with customers. We not only will make a list of the top 5 football books, if it’s beginning to be football season. We’ll [also] have a comment box below that and ask ‘What are your five favorite books?’ What that does is build rapport, [and] makes them feel valued. If they leave your Web site with a smile on their face, feeling that they’ve participated, they’re more likely to come back again.
fE: What changes do you see for your library and the Web in the next few years?
DLK: My friend Michael Porter and I are singing again and making a video about what’s on the horizon. That song is called “Library 101.” We’re going to release it on Oct. 28.
I couldn’t really say in 30 years what the Web will look like. That’s like going from the first telephone at the turn of the century to the cell phone in my pocket that also gets the Web. Nobody would have envisioned that then.
I think we’ll see a lot more content that is developed by more than one person; with wikis and with Google Wave, we can collaborate a lot more to develop content. So things will be coming that will probably look different from your average ‘one person wrote this article and put it in a magazine.’
fE: If there was one thing you could tell those librarians that have never used Twitter and are afraid of Facebook, what would it be?
DLK: We asked a couple of other librarians to write an essay [answering] ‘What’s your library 101? What does that make you think of?’ And Michael Sauers said, “One thing that should be 101 for everybody is to not be afraid.”
It’s almost like trying a new recipe. You’ve never used these ingredients before, you don’t know what it’s going to taste like when you’re done, but you’re experimenting. You can read about Twitter but it’s not going to make much sense. Play with it, test it out, live it for a month; [it’s the] same way with Facebook, [and] same with blogging.
The tools aren’t so important, but the more important thing is being able to create an experience. On Twitter, being able to connect and hold a conversation—that’s the experience of Twitter. And Facebook—it’s getting to know new people, reconnecting with friends you used to know in high school, having a deeper relationship through the tool. Blogging is sharing, giving ideas. A lot of these things go way beyond the tool, to giving a digital experience.