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You Can Do Magic

Submitted by Michael Stephens on December 20, 2010 - 10:24am

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

--Arthur C. Clarke

I want to write about magic today. I’ve written in this space over the years about AV department crystal visions in a crystal ball  and about Xanadu and Libraries -  seriously. I’ve also written many posts about how libraries can utilize space and technology to enhances people lives and how we can hopefully encourage the heart.

I also want to tell you a story about ten year old Michael. He really enjoyed afternoon reruns of shows like Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy and the like. A particular favorite, however, was I Dream of Jeannie. It was silly fun: a genie, a master and a Bottle. Do you remember the bottle? I do. I always wanted one. I daydreamed that the studio might someday mail one out to the biggest fans of the show or make them available in the stores. Never happened.

Fast forward twenty some years to the launch of eBay. I taught “How to eBay” classes at the public library for several years and one of the examples I used was searching for the 1964 Jim Beam decanter that was used for five seasons as Jeannie’s bottle. There was a big market for the bottles back then - and still is.

Fast forward another 15 years or so to 2010. I visited some good friends in Michigan a few days before Thanksgiving and discovered they owned one of the decanters! I had never held one in my hand until that day. Later that night, back home, I pulled up eBay and commenced bidding. 7 days later , delivered to my door just as young Michael had often wished, was a pristine 46 year old bottle. It lives on my sideboard now in a place of honor. It’s hard to describe how happy owning this silly piece of history makes me. Call me silly but the first day I had it, I’d stop and just look at it or pick it up. It made me feel good. Why did I wait so long?

Arthur C. Clarke conceived three laws of prediction - the third is this: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To me, that’s what eBay and to a greater extent the whole world of communication technologies available to us can be for library folk and for our users. Think of these magical opportunities:

Offer Skype stations in your public or academic library so in the blink of an eye, folks can be “back home” or connected to relatives.

Offer group classes or one on one training for mastering that new e-book reader your users will be getting for Christmas and open up a new world of adventure, intrigue and learning for them.

Develop that mobile Web site or app so your users can carry all of your resources in their pockets.

Show your young adult users what’s possible via Facebook and other networks, teach them how to be safe, and let them discover their own special place in the online world.

I’ve been writing for ALA TechSource for over five years and I’m astonished at all of the wonderful things we’ve encountered on this great journey looking at technology and how libraries and librarians can work magic in their users’ lives. This will be my last post as a regular contributor to ALA TechSource. I do plan to return on occasion as a guest contributor as we move forward. Until then, please keep on learning, dreaming and looking for ways you can make a difference for your users.

Thanks for reading!


Comments (1)

Michael, I'm sorry to read

Michael, I'm sorry to read that you won't be a regular TechSource contributor anymore but I'll continue to look forward to reading your posts on Tame the Web. I really appreciate the positive thinking in all of your writing. It's sometimes difficult to find in most academic and library blogs. There are times when I've helped a student or faculty member with a particularly tricky reference question or a finicky database and had them express not only gratitude, but wonder or astonishment. At those moments I feel like a "magic librarian," happily spreading information to those in need. :-)