Chalk notes as a valid communication format

Days like today provide one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to be a library director.  I want to be part of the library’s outreach efforts, to direct them toward goals that make sense to me, and to have the chance to make meaningful connections with users.  I didn’t expect that chance to come from sidewalk chalk, but I’ve been having fun, even so.

I came in Monday morning to see these messages all over our sidewalks.  Every approach to Crumb Library had been tagged:

A very public complaint, and a very clear one.  I don’t feel comfortable ignoring or responding privately to public complaints.  So, later in the day, I replied:

While I was writing my replies, I was stopped by a few students.  One said, “More chalk?” And I grinned, said, “The libraries’ response.” He was flabbergasted that we were replying to chalk notes.  I said, “Hey, you want to talk to me in chalk, I’ll respond in chalk.”

Except I really responded with a poster.

The poster, as a .jpg on Flickr (click through for larger version):

friday sidewalk.001

So there it is.  People have been complimenting me on the response all day.  We’re working up a similar poster for the Crane Library to respond to concerns from the music school students.  I was aiming for fast, transparent, and public, and I think I hit all three goals.  I realize, as I type this, that I was also aiming for personable and approachable, and I hope I hit that one, too.  I spent half an hour talking to people and soliciting opinions about approaches, and a few hours fiddling with a poster design… and maybe, just maybe, as a result of my decision to take those few hours last night to respond, the people who’re frustrated that we close at 6 on Fridays will understand why that is.  And maybe we’ll get some suggestions about what they’d prefer we do.

Either way, it was fun.  C’mon, who doesn’t like sidewalk chalk?

30 thoughts on “Chalk notes as a valid communication format”

  1. Love it. It’s a shame this kind of approach isn’t seen as “the usual”…it’s *awesome*, but it also *just plain makes sense*. So often we’re asked/told to respond in rigid ways that don’t make sense (& end up amounting to a brush-off, w/o the audience feeling “met” or listened to at all).

    Great job, Jenica. Would that there were more like you in charge.

  2. Wow, good for you! One of my biggest complaints about library bureaucracy is the strict rule enforcement and inability to think outside of the box, but you just totally dismissed the box! What a great way to create a dialog with your patrons… I’m sure it means a lot to them to know you’re listening and care about their concerns.

  3. My concern would be that a chalk reponse would give every tagger around license to graffiti at the library. I presume that the Library already had formal feedback methods readily available for the anonymous. In spite of the format of the message, it raised a question that deserved an answer. Using a chalk reponse seems to assume that the question was raised by someone who doesn’t ever enter the Library, and wouldn’t see a response there. If the question was attached to a brick that crashed through a Library window, does the delivery method devalue the question?

  4. “My concern would be that a chalk reponse would give every tagger around license to graffiti at the library. I presume that the Library already had formal feedback methods readily available for the anonymous… If the question was attached to a brick that crashed through a Library window, does the delivery method devalue the question?”

    So negative! How did you get from a chalked message and a poster to bricks crashing through the window? I mean, REALLY?

    To give you a real answer despite my incredulity, I only intend to respond to messages that have merit. Graffiti is one thing; chalk notes on sidewalks are a long-standing college campus communication method, and are entirely different. I believe that it’s our job to respond to our users, and not to demand that our users talk to us in only the ways we prescribe and proscribe for them, so no, in most (reasonable and not alarmist or illegal) cases, the method does not, in my eyes, devalue the message. Who are we to declare what’s appropriate communication for our community? The community needs to have some agency, as well. I’ll provide as many options as I can, but technology and community proceed at their own paces, apart from the bureaucracy of the institution, so I’ll take what we’re given, so long as it’s genuine and sincere.

    And I responded in chalk because I wanted to be certain that any member of the community who doesn’t enter the library saw that there were two sides to the story — they’d seen the public criticism, I wanted to be sure there was a public response from the libraries, as well. It’s just good PR to do it that way.

  5. I think this is an awesome response to the community, Jenica! I just finished my MLIS and can only hope that I can work for (and one day be) such a responsive and creative manager!

  6. Hey, we’re always talking about reachng out to this generation of students through technology because that’s “what they want”. But if a student chooses to bring up a discussion point in a non-tech format, then they still need to be communicated with! Love that! Now that is what true innovation is – rolling with the punches and doing it in a timely manner.

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