The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.”

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The above quote is from the preface to the new edition of The Design of Everyday Things, which will be published in November (the preface is already available). If I’d known a new edition was coming so soon, I might’ve waited a few months, but as it is, the 1988 edition holds up fairly well. The examples are outdated, but the principles remain sound, and Norman even predicted certain technological advances (the smartphone, for example).

Norman’s principles of design truly do apply to everything that people make and use, from the simple (doors) to the advanced (computers). Though technology has improved since 1988 (now, of course, computers are everyday things), some of the same design flaws persist, and Norman’s decades-old observation still holds true to some extent: “[D]esigners of computer systems seem particularly oblivious to the needs of users…” Designers, who know their products well, often fall into the trap of thinking that they are the typical user, when in fact, they usually cannot predict the type of errors that users will commit.

So, what are these principles?

Visibility: Is it clear from examining the object in question how it can be used, or what should be done with it? For example, is the on/off switch in the front, or hidden around the back? I thought of an example of poor visibility right away: at our library, we have a coin box where patrons pay for their print jobs. This box is designed so that coins go in a slot at the top. The machine also accepts $1 and $5 bills, but the slot for the dollar bills is placed on the front of the box but very far down, near the floor. Patrons frequently come to the desk to get change for a bill, and we show them that the machine does in fact accept bills. A lot of them apologize for bothering us and blame themselves for not seeing the bill slot, but really, it is a bad design: the bill and coin slots should be grouped together.

Natural mapping: Essentially, does the way a thing works make sense? A joystick or a mouse employs natural mapping: forward=up, backward=down, left=left, right=right. Likewise a steering wheel in a car: turn right to move right, and left to move left. The opposite would be counterintuitive, confusing, and frustrating, and would lead to frequent error.

Conceptual model: Norman writes about three aspects of mental models: the design model, the system image, and the user’s model. The design model is the designer’s mental map of how their product works; the system image is what the product shows to the user; and the user’s model is a mental map of how they think the product works. In the preface to the 2002 edition, Norman writes, “Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.” Because the designer and the user don’t communicate directly, the user’s only insight into the designer’s mind is through the system image. Therefore, the designer must “explain” through the system image how the product works, and guide the user to perform the correct actions for the task they want to complete – not an easy feat. However, Norman writes, as a rule of thumb, “When instructions have to be pasted on something…it is badly designed.” Things work best when the designer and the user have similar conceptual models.

Feedback: Once the user has completed an action, how does s/he know whether it has worked or not? Humans generally are not comfortable with uncertainty, so a good design provides feedback to explain what is happening or has happened. “Design should…make sure that (1) the user can figure out what to do, and (2) the user can tell what is going on.” Feedback includes everything from progress bars (“Your download is 58% complete”) to descriptive error messages with helpful next steps.

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While reading The Design of Everyday Things, Clarke’s Third Law came to mind: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke). When processes become invisible, they come to seem magical and mysterious. The flip side is that “magic” is hard to take apart, fix, and put back together; cellphones aren’t like old radios. With much of today’s technology, it is difficult for users to tell what is happening, and, if something is going wrong, how to fix it. The Design of Everyday Things doesn’t necessarily help users who are frustrated with a product (except by assuring them that it likely isn’t their fault, but rather the fault of the design), but it does help us recognize bad design, think about how it could be better, and appreciate good design.

More quotes from the book can be found in my Goodreads review.

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What to read and how to read it: RSS feeds and library blogs

When Google Reader announced it was shutting down, I considered several options and chose to migrate to The Old Reader. The migration took a few days because of heavy traffic, but once that was done and I started using it, I liked it a lot; it was the most similar and therefore least disruptive change.

However, right around the time I went to NELLS, The Old Reader was having some issues and it looked like it was going to be down for quite a while. To their credit, they’re doing everything they can to make The Old Reader sustainable in the long term, but I didn’t want to be without my RSS feed for that long.

feedly-logo1-640x297Instead of looking back at my first post on the topic (see link in first paragraph), I went ahead and chose Feedly. If I had looked back at my own research, I probably would have gone with Newsblur, but I’ve been fairly happy with Feedly. It’s easy to organize your subscriptions into folders and move the folders around; there are a number of view options; the app for the tablet is good. The left-hand sidebar menu tends to disappear (to give more room to what you’re reading), but reappears when you float over it.

But the RSS tool is only the how, not the what. The what, of course, is the content itself, and since NELLS I have added a few more blogs to my “Library Blogs” folder, including friends and fellow NELLS participants Anna at LCARSLIBRARIAN and Sarah at librarysarie. (Those links go directly to their posts about NELLS.)

A few of my other favorite library blogs:

  • Brian at SwissArmyLibrarian: SwissArmyLibIn addition to the always-interesting Reference Question of the Week, Brian also writes clear, concise, thoughtful posts relevant to the public library world. He has a lot of experience as a librarian, but I think his blog would be interesting for library patrons as well as other librarians. Plus, he works in Massachusetts, so if you’re in New England there’s a good chance you’ll see him in person at a conference. Say hi!
  • Sarah at LibrarianInBlack: Opinionated, honest, and unafraid to stand up for herself and her library, Sarah is the director of a public library in California. As she says on her “About” page, “I am a big technology nerd and I believe in the power of libraries to change lives.  Combined, they make a fearsome cocktail.”
  • Jessamyn at Librarian.net: Jessamyn writes from Vermont about libraries, technology, politics and government (she covered the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case, for example). A great writer, relevant and interesting content. LibraryLoon
  • Gavia Libraria, the Library Loon: the pseudonymous Loon writes about issues within library school and academic libraries. I enjoy her opinionated style as well as the substance of each post. She recently linked to Meredith Farkas’ piece, “Managing the ‘whole person,'” which I highly recommend, especially to NELLS folks. Meredith’s blog is another good one for those interested in academic libraries and instruction in general.
  • Julie at Perfect Whole: Julie is a librarian, reader, and writer who until recently wrote twice-monthly essays, published on the first and 15th of the month. This schedule has been suspended recently but there are plenty of thoughtful, well-crafted essays as well as the occasional current post.  Her “I can’t believe you’re throwing out books!” essay sparked a lot of conversations about weeding.
  • Linda at ThreeGoodRats: Linda is one of my co-workers (we both write for the Robbins Library blog) and ThreeGoodRats is where she reviews the many, many books she reads. Her reviews are neat, to-the-point, honest, helpful (if you’re trying to decide whether or not to read that particular book), and insightful. She also has a Sunday knitting feature that will knock your (handmade) socks off. YALSATheHub
  • Young Adult blogs: I enjoy the unique review style at Forever Young Adult, though I don’t read 100% of the content. Some of their reviews are now featured on Kirkus. They also write TV show recaps. YALSA’s The Hub is another YA blog I browse (Anna of LCARSLIBRARIAN writes for them sometimes). There is a high volume of content so I don’t read everything, but a recent favorite post is “Too Many Trilogies.”

So those are a few blogs I make a point of reading. What are your favorites? And what have you found to replace Google Reader (assuming you were using it in the first place), and are you happy with it? Comment below!

Open Letter: Authors for Library E-Books

Naturally the subject of e-books in libraries arose during the week at NELLS. For those who are unfamiliar with the issue, Maureen Sullivan’s open letter to publishers (9/28/2012) is a good place to begin. In it, she explains how libraries support publishers by improving literacy, instilling a lifelong love of reading, and aiding discovery of new authors and genres. E-books in libraries will no more cannibalize e-book sales to consumers than print books in libraries have (i.e., they won’t; research shows that most people who borrow from the library also buy books).

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The Authors for Library E-Books campaign (@Authors4LE on Twitter; #A4LE) is an effort to encourage authors to speak out on this issue. Libraries and authors are natural allies, and we all need to speak up to bring this change about. To this end, I contacted a few authors that I have met over the years – through publishing or through author events at bookstores and at the library. I’ve included a template of my letter here; if you know an author (or two, or five, or twelve) who supports libraries, feel free to tweak this and send it along. I personalized each one by mentioning a recent reading of theirs that I’d attended, a program they’d done at a library, or a new book of theirs coming out soon.

An Open Letter to Authors for Library E-Books

Dear [Author],

I hope you are having a good summer so far. I know you are a strong supporter of libraries, and I thought you might like to join ALA’s “Authors for Library E-Books” effort.

I’m sure you’re aware of the ongoing discourse between publishers and libraries on this topic. As it stands, each publisher has come up with a different solution: HarperCollins, for example, licenses e-books to libraries at a reasonable cost, but those licenses expire after 26 uses. Other publishers, such as Random House, charge libraries more than three times the consumer price for e-books and digital audiobooks.

Author and library advocate Cory Doctorow has made a short (four minutes) video about why he supports the Authors for Library E-Books campaign. He says, “Libraries have been so important to the careers of writers, and librarians are such fabulous advocates for authors….Libraries should be able to buy books and they should be able to buy them on fair terms.”

Join Cory Doctorow, Jodi Picoult, Ursula Le Guin, and many other authors who stand with libraries on this issue. You can sign onspeak out, and learn more at the A4LE site, or of course feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback.

Sincerely,
Jenny

NELLS Discussion Questions

Many of our most lively and productive discussions during NELLS came out of asking questions; a single question could launch an hour-long conversation. I have included several of these questions below, including snippets of our discussions, but first, a definition:

Leader: a person who influences others in an identified situation or group to obtain a particular result that will benefit the organization. Such a position does not depend on a title or on some recognition of formal authority.

That is the definition of a leader from Developing Library Leaders by Robert Stueart & Maureen Sullivan (Neal-Schumann Publishers, 2010). The difference between a leader and a manager is not purely semantic; not all people in management positions are leaders, and many leaders are not in management positions. Thus, when a question is directed at “leaders,” it can apply to managers and non-managers alike.

What do you want to do/become? The scope of this question can be as large or small as you like, but keep in mind: “This is not a dress rehearsal – this is it.” As Maureen Sullivan said, “We are adults in development throughout our lives.” At the same time, she reminded us, “Perfection is not possible.”

What are the three greatest challenges that you face as a leader in your work? Identifying and articulating the challenges is a first step in beginning to address them in a productive manner.

Questions managers can ask those they are managing: What is one thing you would like to change and how could we do it? (One NELLS participant, a library director, said her approach was, “We’re not brain surgeons, no one’s going to die, let’s try it.”) What about [our library/this process] would you like to change? Managers can empower those they manage by saying, “Okay, try that.”

Where and when do challenges become opportunities? “Innovation happens most often through adaptation,” Maureen Sullivan pointed out.  Sustained change does not happen by a revolutionary process, but by an adaptive process.

Who are you, what do you bring, how can you sustain it over time? Consider your strengths. Also consider how you can stay energized and focused. (“Work-life balance” was mentioned here.)

Why are we doing what we do? There was a flood of answers to this question, put to the group by Rob Maier. One participant said that patrons frequently approached the desk at her library and prefaced their question with the phrase, “I don’t know who else to ask…” As a group, we determined that libraries are (or can be): the heartbeat of the community, a community center, a social good, access to information and resources, a nonjudgmental space, a path to citizenship, the cornerstone of democracy. Some of these answers sound lofty, but all are true.

Would you rather have a boss/employee who is passionate or effective? This was one of the best discussions of the week. Ideally, of course, you work with people who are both passionate and effective: people who are inspired, energetic, and visionary, and who have the ability to get things done on a detailed, day-to-day level. In reality, however, most people fall toward one end of the spectrum or the other: some see the big picture but aren’t great at the details, while others excel at getting things done efficiently and effectively, but aren’t overflowing with big ideas. The solution? Not everyone has to be everything, but make sure your staff has some of each.

Why aren’t libraries on the radar of non-library users? In every community, there are people who don’t use the library – not to check out books or movies, not as a quiet work space, not to attend programs for themselves or their children, not to access the internet. What can we do to convert more non-library users into library users? Is it a matter of advertising what we offer, or offering different things?

Questions to ask when assessing a new process or program: What went well/what worked? What didn’t work? If we did it again, what would we change? Evaluation is an important part of trying new things and improving them for the next time around.

What if you’re happy where you are and don’t want to get to “the top”? Most libraries are hierarchical to some extent, but what if you have no desire to be a library director? We discussed how to grow within your current position, and considered the question, What do you need to know to do your work?

What steps can we take to prepare for the future and ensure that our libraries thrive? Like many organizations, it can be difficult for libraries to move with agility and speed to adjust to change. This question bypasses reactive steps and encourages proactive ones. Libraries are ideal environments to foster a culture of experimentation and learning. We can help – in nearly every case, are already helping – close the digital divide. We can take more risks, without jumping on every new trend. Libraries can be like nimble little goats, surefooted on a rocky surface.

How is 24-hour access to the web changing your library and how do you want to lead that change? Again, the focus here is on leading change, not reacting to it. Library websites, accessible 24/7, are patrons’ only portal to library services when the building itself is closed. What resources can we offer, and how can we present those resources in a clear, organized, attractive way?

Do you feel barriers to political or community engagement? Can you overcome them? Librarians can and should be advocates for the library, which means community engagement and political engagement. The OCLC report, From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America, is a good place to start. (For those in Massachusetts, Krista McLeod, co-chair of NELLS and director of the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, can provide additional resources.)

NELLS exercises and evaluations

Throughout the week at NELLS, we did a number of exercises and self-assessments. I have shared three of these below (PDF). They were all valuable exercises, in that they cause you to think deeply about your experiences, inclinations, and preferences; also, by examining how you work best, you can consider how others work best, how your styles might differ, and how to manage those differences to achieve a positive outcome.

Leadership self-assessment: This assessment tool helps identify areas of strength and areas for development*: the categories include communication, professional ethics, decision making, planning, solving problems, entrepreneurship, team building, coaching, leading change, motivation, empathy, social skills, self-awareness and regulation, and supervision. The questions, over four pages, are “I” statements, with a 1-5 scale from “seldom” to “frequently” for answers (e.g. “I explain ideas and concepts so all can understand”).

Conflict_management_style_assessment: This assessment tool consists of 20 questions with two possible answers each (choose a or b) over two pages, with scoring key on third page to determine your conflict management/negotiating style(s). Answer the questions before consulting the scoring key. Consider how you might work best with someone whose conflict management or negotiation style is different from yours.**

Risk-taking in organizations: This is less of an assessment exercise and more of an opportunity for reflection; it is two pages of open-ended questions.

*”Areas for development,” not “weaknesses.” The old familiar SWOT model of analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) can be replaced with SOAR: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results. With this model, organizations can avoid getting bogged down in the negative and what has happened in the past by focusing on the positive (what is working) and on the future (what do we want it to look like, how do we want to function, what do we want to offer).

conflict_management_styles_graph**One of the best discussions of the week came out of this exercise, when we regrouped to discuss our results. Someone who had one conflict management style asked those with a different style how best to approach them to deal with conflict in a positive way. Recognizing that your co-workers – no matter where they are in the organizational hierarchy – may have a different style from yours brings a new level of awareness to the process of conflict management and negotiation.

In the photo at right, the circled numbers in green represent the results of the NELLS group. Though many of us scored high on two management styles (collaborating and compromising, for example), these numbers reflect only the highest scores. “Collaborating” was the most prevalent style, followed by compromising, competing, avoiding, and accommodating.

NELLS resources

st-exuperyOn the first day of NELLS, each participant and mentor received a binder full of resources, including a “selected list of readings on leadership” compiled by Maureen Sullivan, which I have reproduced below (she said it was okay to share):

Bennis, Warren et al. Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor

Bennis, Warren and Joan Goldsmith. Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader

Berger, Jennifer Garvey. Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

Bridges, William. Managing Transitions.

Cohen, Allan and David Bradford. Influence without Authority.

Farrell, Robert and Kenneth Schlesinger. Managing in the Middle (an ALA Guide for the Busy Librarian)

Fisher, Roger and Daniel Shapiro. Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate

Heifetz, Ronald et al., The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

Kinlaw, Dennis. Coaching for Commitment. Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. A Leader’s Legacy and The Truth About Leadership

McKee, Annie et al. Becoming a Resonant Leader

Patterson, Kerry et al. Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Stueart, Robert D. and Maureen Sullivan. Developing Library Leaders.

rollingridge_mazeOf course, many other books and articles were mentioned by Maureen and others during the week. I have listed as many of those as I could find here, but if other NELLS folks want to add more in the comments, that would be great. Links for books go to the Minuteman or OCLC catalog, links for articles go to various websites.

Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me.” The Story and Its Writer: an Introduction to Short Fiction.

Amabile, Teresa. Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity

Boyatzis, Richard. The Competent Manager: a Model for Effective Performance

Brazelton, T. Berry. Touchpoints Birth to Three: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development  (mentioned in the context of managing emotions)

Conger, Jay. “The Necessary Art of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, May 1998. (Article preview is available, the rest of the article is behind the HBR paywall.)

Conner, Daryl. Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail

De Rosa, Cathy, et al. From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America. OCLC, 2008. (Web | PDF)

Drucker, Peter. “Managing Oneself.” Harvard Business Review, January 2005. (Article preview.)

Gabarro, John and Kotter, John. “Managing Your Boss.” Harvard Business Review, January 2005. (Article preview.)

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Goleman, Daniel. “Leadership That Gets Results.” Harvard Business Review, March 2000. (Article preview.)

Gross, Valerie. Transforming Our Image, Building Our Brand: the Education Advantage

Hallowell, Edward. CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap: Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life and The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy and Connect

Harwood, Richard. The Work of Hope: How Individuals & Organizations Can Authentically Do Good (free ebook from link)

Heath, Chip. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Heifetz, Ronald et al. “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis.” Harvard Business Review, July 2009. (Article preview.)

Hesselbein, Frances, et al. The Organization of the Future

Kegan, Robert. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (he has written other books as well, including Change Leadership: a Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools, but I think The Evolving Self was the one Maureen mentioned)

Kotter, John. “Accelerate!” Harvard Business Review, November 2012. (Article preview.)

Kretzmann, Jody and Rans, Susan. The Engaged Library: Chicago Stories of Community Building. Urban Libraries Council, December 2005. (PDF)

Lankes, R. David. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World

MacKinnon, Rebecca. Consent of the Networked: the World-Wide Struggle for Internet Freedom

Margolis, Michael. Believe Me. GetStoried.com

Maurer, Rick. Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Unconventional Strategies that Build Support for Change

Moore, Mary. The Successful Library Trustee Handbook. ALA, 2005.

Neiburger, Eli. Libraries Are Screwed. September 2010. (YouTube video, approx. 20 min. altogether, part 1 | part 2)

Nelson, Sandra. The New Planning For Results: a streamlined approachALA, 2001.

O’Toole, James, and Bennis, Warren. “A Culture of Candor.” Harvard Business Review, June 2009. (Article preview.)

Updated to add: Perlinska, Agnieska and Chapados, Chip. The Conversation: Simple Truths to Make Life Work

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Scholtes, Peter. The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done

Shewhart, Walter A. “Plan Do Check Act (PDCA).” (Wikipedia article)

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping

Von Oech, Roger. A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative

Neil Gaiman: Myth, Magic, and Making Stuff Up

neil-gaimanThanks to Twitter (see, it IS good for something!), I found tickets to the sold-out Neil Gaiman talk at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday, “Myth, Magic, and Making Stuff Up.” Gaiman is not only an excellent writer – of fiction for adults, teens, and children, of graphic novels, of nonfiction, of short stories – he is a great advocate for libraries, so I was doubly excited to see him speak.

His first words to the audience were, “Hello. So, the plan. And I have one.” He then said hello to those watching/listening from the overflow room, and consoled them, “You wouldn’t believe what it smells like in here.” For the rest of the hour, he gave a prepared talk, then read us a draft of a new story(!), then answered questions from the audience.

Gaiman likened myths to compost – an analogy he has used elsewhere – old, essential stories broken down into their rich, earthy components, ready and waiting for writers to plant their own seeds and harvest their own new plants from the old material. Myths evolve to suit – and help explain – a particular time and place. In one version, Sleeping Beauty might sleep for a hundred years, and in another version she might sleep for just a day; in many versions she is the protagonist, but in another it’s the queen who is the hero. “Too often myths are unexamined,” Gaiman said. “It is the function of imaginative literature to show is the world we know but from a different direction.”

After his prepared talk, Gaiman read us a story called “Freyja’s Unusual Wedding,” a retelling of an old Norse myth featuring Freyja, Thor, Loki, and the giant Thrym. I’m unfamiliar with the original, but in this version, Thrym steals Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and demands Freyja’s hand in marriage in exchange for its return. Freyja, naturally, declines to be married off to the giant, and Thor and Loki must come up with an alternative plan. “Freyja’s Unusual Wedding” is to be part of a collection of retellings of myths that Gaiman plans to spend 2014 working on (among other things, I’m sure), and the audience reaction was strongly positive.

oceanattheendofthelaneThe question and answer session was relatively brief. One person asked about the role of rules in myths, citing examples from Gaiman’s newest adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman responded that myths once had a useful function as a teaching tool in society, but noted, “I have always been very fond of not telling what the rules are.” He pointed out that whenever he has met with people in Hollywood meetings about his projects, someone has inevitably said, “I don’t really understand what the rules are,” to which he replied, “No one understands what the rules are.” That’s what makes life – and stories – interesting (or scary).

Another person asked, “Do you ever create something that becomes part of your belief system?” Yes, Gaiman said; writing can be a way of learning what you believe, and at least, “I believe what I’m writing while I’m writing it.” But, he added, “It’s weirder for me when other people believe it.” (“I have a very weird kind of head.”)

The last question was from a teacher, who mentioned the recent change in the core curriculum, a shift toward more nonfiction. He asked if Gaiman could recommend some nonfiction he liked. Gaiman said that he hadn’t really started reading nonfiction until he started writing fiction and realized “It all had to come from somewhere.” He recommended two of his favorite nonfiction books: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay (1841), London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew (1967).

A few additional quotes from the first part of the event:

On turning into a werewolf: “I dreamed I did once, so I know what it’s like.”

On writing: “We [authors] cannibalize ourselves.”

On stories: “Without our stories we are incomplete.”

On fairy tales: “Fairy tales are not true, they’re more than true.”

On the imagination: “It’s a strange place, the imagination…a dangerous place…you can always use a guide.”

For those who missed this event and are interested in what Gaiman has to say, I recommend his recent commencement speech (video). For those who are interested in reading some of his work, check out A Calendar of Tales for free – twelve short stories, one for each month of the year, inspired by prompts on Twitter.

Note: The above photo of Neil Gaiman is from the Boston MFA website. Photography during the event was “strictly prohibited.”