Changing the way librarians think about the future

Thomas Frey spoke at LIANZA14 recently,  I didn’t attend but if the tweets were anything to go by, the audience was distinctly underwhelmed. As one of them said, yes in the future things will be different.

I’ve just revisited an article by Brian Mathews called The librarian as futurist: changing the way libraries think about the future.  In it Brian doesn’t speculate on what is going to happen in the future but suggests that librarians should focus on how things could change by using scenario planning, being change literate and being comfortable with ambiguity.

Perhaps one of the most interesting ideas in his essay is around change literacy. For students change literacy is an advantage as they enter the workforce – being able to monitor information, identify strategic insights, apply and adapt ideas. For librarians it is an opportunity for us to move beyond keepers of information and even collaborators in knowledge production, to facilitators of change. Brian acknowledges this may seem out of place for us but he points out libraries have been role models for organisational change through what we have done with learning spaces, collection migrations and new literacies. Furthermore we would continue what we have always done, help simplify complexity, enrich information and generate ideas through conversation within our communities:

successfully embracing and enacting a future-orientated program will position librarians not only to demonstrate a capacity and comfort with change, but the ability and expertise to help others shape their futures as well

There is a  well what does it all really mean aspect to this term change literacy, and if you have other insights it would be great to hear about them. For Brian, libraries could fill a niche around gathering and synthesising information into insights, and devising future road maps:

In short, librarians could serve as futurists by providing strategic foresight support to aid success for our parent institutions.

Or as he also puts in librarians becoming practitioners of futurist knowledge creation.

In many ways this is not too far from some of the work that librarians do, particularly in special libraries, around monitoring future trends, and reporting on these. Or in this example where QUT Library looked at a trend report and created a new tool for customers.

I found some other gems in the article.

This point seemed particularly pertinent when we are thinking about our how we develop our services around research, teaching and learning. Do we really do enough of this?:

We should not concern ourselves with the future of libraries. Instead we should focus on the factors driving change within the communities we serve and partner with

And what would this look like, as we work towards ways to measure our impact and demonstrate how we deliver value?:

We are witnessing an interesting shift in the library profession toward more anthropological assessment measures – perhaps this will help us inject new thinking beyond the dominant quantitative mindset. When libraries served more as warehouse utilities, data-driven decision-making was crucial, but now as more of our work increasingly revolves around forming complex relationships and ongoing interactions, a more humanistic approach is required for growth and improvement

Networking for people who hate networking …

… is the title of a great book by Devora Zack.

Zack is keen to reframe networking “as an opportunity to create meaningful connections, requiring skills such as listening, focus and depth”. Her key point is that introverts should not try to be extroverts – it simply won’t work – but encourages them instead to focus on the gifts introverts have. Having said that, Zack is careful to dispel stereotypes about introverts and extroverts and points out that there are variations within these broad categories and everyone has bits and pieces of both traits. There are also those who end up in the middle and Zack calls these folks centroverts.

If this sounds all like a load of nonsense, I have to say I’m an introvert, although I don’t come across as that to some, and I found this book hugely helpful. And I don’t actually hate networking, I just feel I am very clumsy at it sometimes. My level of introversion really depends on what situation I am in, and how I am feeling. I do genuinely enjoy talking to people and finding out what makes me tick.  What frustrates me is that networking skills don’t always feel that they come easy to me. I may turn up to occasions that present a fantastic networking opportunity only to feel somewhat “struck dumb” and have no idea of how to strike up conversations with people. Zack suggests three strategies for introverts – pause (research), process (focus) and pace (restore).

So what are these 3 Ps all about?

Continue reading

Library week and Lady Gaga

This week saw LIANZA launch the theme and website for Library Week 2010, “Ask me – You might be surprised! He Taonga Te Pātai”. This year the focus is on raising the profile of librarians:

The theme reflects librarians not just as people who issue books, shelve novels and tell you to “hush” when you have been too noisy but as trained information professionals who have a world of knowledge and experience at their fingertips.

The info about the launch includes an example of  a poster that will be part of the publicity material:

The sample poster … shows a librarian shelving books, as you might expect, but through the “rock music” imagery we can see that is not all there is to a librarian. Indeed, under the surface you don’t know what wealth of information lays within, just ask – you might be surprised!

I don’t know if other professions spend as much time as we do in angst-ridden endless discussions about  “identity” and ongoing attempts to break the stereotypes. These discussions amongst our profession are both trivial and essential. What we can’t afford to do is to let our heritage (for want of a better word) as a lowly-paid, undervalued, largely female dominated profession decide our fate. Whether we are twinset and pearl wearing traditionalists, tat and pierced wannabes or genuine hip young things what we need to be able to do is to become accomplished at how we can really deliver value in a world where there is a clear “information access paradox” – where most people can get by with what they find on a Google search, but there may come a time when that doesn’t cut the mustard.

Apparently there’s been a bit of a debate lately about the UofW Librarians Do Gaga video and whether or not it’s a good thing – I quite like Mal Booth’s response in his Putting yourself out there post:

Well to them I say “BAH, HUMBUG!” I don’t think it has a deep and meaningful message – who cares if the words aren’t completely in accord with what you believe to be the truth about academic libraries. Who knows anyway? The lyrics had to fit in with the bloody music. And I really don’t think they are trying to be cool at all. They look obviously daggy and a range of folk of all ages from the library were included.

Mal Booth also includes a short promo video featuring a MOMA staff member which I think is nicely done:

I await the LIANZA promo material with interest 😉

Research: Do they know they know it? The perception of marketing by special librarians in New Zealand by Melissa Clarkson (2008)

I became aware of this MLIS project and asked Melissa if she would share her findings on this blog. I’m pleased to be able to reproduce the summary here (with her permission) and some thoughts she has shared with me via email, especially as there is so little literature on marketing and libraries in New Zealand.

Executive summary from Melissa’s research

This study investigates the gap between marketing theory and the perception of marketing by special librarians in New Zealand. The Marketing Mix or 4 P’s of marketing provides the framework for the research. A survey was distributed asking for all special librarians in New Zealand to respond. Four interviews were also undertaken to gather further data. The research found that there is a significant gap in the between marketing theory and the perception of special librarians in New Zealand. Most special librarians see marketing as promotion. Further investigation finds that a number of special librarians see the use of an intranet and the services they provide as promotion, indicating that there is some awareness of the marketing principles, but they are not aware that these are marketing principles. Findings show that attending a marketing course significantly improves knowledge and understanding of marketing principles.

Other thoughts from Melissa:

I chose this particular subject because I went on a marketing course and got very passionate about marketing. I realised that marketing is more than just promotion, and from my time in special libraries I realised it was something that special librarians did not appear to do well. My aim was to prove (or in a dream world disprove) the perception that special librarians don’t see marketing as anything more than promotion. A side goal was to make special librarians more aware of marketing and I feel like I have done this by actually doing the survey (and getting people thinking about what they know about marketing), and more recently doing presentations.

 One of the first questions I asked was “what is marketing” and 57 people stated promotion alone.  However, I did ask a number of questions, such as, “where are you placed on your intranet” and “what products do you provide” and even some around relationship marketing, and found that special librarians had an intranet presence, listed off a number of products they had, and admitted they often had coffees with ‘clients’ and formed relationships that way.  My conclusion is that special librarians aren’t aware that so much of what they do is marketing.  I also compared different demographics, so whether location, job position, qualification etc… made a difference.  The only thing that made a difference (aside from having attended a marketing course) were qualifications, with those who have international qualifications knowing more about the principles of marketing.

What is a concern is that a number of people perceive themselves as being ‘too busy’ to market. This is a concern because, without realising that the product they are offering is marketing, they often sell themselves short. What if they are offering the wrong service and spending all their time on something that isn’t meeting their clients needs? 

If you would like to read the research, like all other MLIS research papers, it is available through the VUW Library.

The value of Twitter for marketing – and promoting the image of librarians

One of my colleagues (thanks Kirsty!) has pointed out an article on the value of Twitter. It includes this useful quote:

From a personal brand building and networking standpoint, the key is not to look at microblogging as individual posts, but think of the overall impressions and value that can be created over time. Each 140 character or less entry serves as a seed of an idea for an overall objective…

Rather, consider an overall objective and keep that in mind as decisions are made about what kinds of personal info, links to useful resources and promotional items are posted. Over time, you’ll build a footprint and identify within the Twitter community. Building that footprint will be far more effective if you keep overall objectives in mind, rather than random information. Unless of course, your objective is to build an identity as a scatterbox.

I’ve pretty much decided to use Twitter as part of my professional identity – although I may post some personal comments and links, my primary use of Twitter is to keep in touch with things happening in the library and wider information world. The point in the quote above about thinking of the “overall impressions and value that can be created over time” struck a cord with me. A while back when I had protected my updates (as I tried to figure out the whole online identity thing) I actually declined a couple of Auckland businesses – not being interested in their business (for locality reasons), and wondering why on earth I would be of interest to them. But it occurred to me – some of the most successful posts I’ve had on this blog have been from people looking for trend information. If a couple of businesses in Auckland want to follow me then maybe they might come across some useful trend information from me, and maybe just maybe they might realise librarians are useful people to follow 🙂 Wishful thinking- maybe? But for a profession obsessed with how we appear to others, really thinking about the impressions our tweets give could be a useful strategy.