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

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I’m not saying it has to be cheese and wine … but …

Welcome to my first guest post – this one showcases promotional events in an academic library. 

A big thank you to my colleague Heather da Vanzo, Humanities & Social Sciences Librarian, Massey University Library, Wellington campus

Libraries do need to up their game when it comes to marketing. Having worked in a variety of sectors, most recently in the Academic sector it’s clear that Libraries have moved from collection based institutions towards service based organizations – I’m just not sure we’re communicating the value of our collection to our clients.

Currently being in a small team our marketing has to be sustainable, we’ve agreed that 2 promotional events a year is feasible. We aren’t talking huge events – just 20-30 guests – again manageable and for us it allows us to offer a “hands-on” aspect to the session.

Tailoring the sessions to client needs is crucial – it keeps numbers manageable, but also ensures a clear message. So far our target audience has been postgraduates, researchers and staff but his could change, depending on the resources we market and the venue.

Heather da Vanzo presents at a Massey University Library event at our Wellington campus

As always it’s important we don’t reinvent the wheel so we’ve designed a check list of logistical tasks. The checklist ensures we can divide the tasks amongst the team and utilize a package of templates including a door sign, poster, bookmark and invitation email. Apart from saving time, these templates retain some consistency to the Libraries “promotion” brand.  We can easily change the colour and logo to match the theme of the promotional event.

Really it’s been about getting staff and researchers into the Library space and showing them the Library has what they need. Assuming we are familiar with the purpose of the institution and the needs of the clients, Librarians are in the best position to make the match between client and resource.  Essentially show clients our relevance.

We have offered, cake and coffee, cheese and wine, catering which doesn’t break the bank; but creates a welcoming impression with the client and gets them through the door. And it strikes a chord:

“Great session…..very informative and clearly presented…makes much more impact when you get a presentation rather than finding the info out by working through the data……and let’s face it….mostly we wouldn’t bother…….great cake too!” Associate Professor Ciochetto

We’ve found promotional events a great way to build relationships, promote our resources and look competent!

Note: Photo and quote used with permission

Jenica Rogers – passionate librarian

Ah Jenica, where were you years ago when I needed you?

Jenica’s Roger’s keynote at the recent LIANZA conference was all about how to keep moving forward despite the odds stacked against you. Her talk was full of metaphors – climbing hills, moving through walls – accompanied by powerful imagery and sparse words on her powerpoint slides. There were times when I thought to myself that her keynote was sounding too much like something out of a self-help manual. How cynical of me. There were some real gems in what she said, some solid reminders of how to approach what you want to get done. Days later her talk is still resonating with me, and after finding it pretty much verbatim on her blog I suddenly feel the urge to print out some of the images she has there and put them around my desk.

So here are some of the things I noted from her talk:

• You are your own best weapon in the things you want to change
• Why are you fixing on an idea? What resonates for you? If you can figure out that then you have something to act on
• She talked about an actionable passion – a belief in something and a belief that it can be done. It is important to name your passion and be optimistic about it
• Important to challenge legacy processes
• You come back from conference and then you are just one person. What next?? Jenica used climbing hills as a metaphor for facing challenges. But you have to figure out which hill is worth climbing. Not all hills are worth climbing and some battles are not worth fighting. We have the power to choose what we work on.
• The secret is to approach success as you would any project. You have to plan for it, organize it, and manage it. She thinks any goal, every goal, should be project managed. You need to make a plan, draw yourself a map and then follow it. Having scripts helps to deal with unexpected.
• Build an ugly rocket to get you where you want to get to – you may not like everything you have to do to get where you want to be
• Success requires some tolerance for failure
• What’s the worst that can happen?
• We must not have fear driving us?
• Ask yourself why someone is blocking you? Can you find an ally? Find yourself a team. Sometimes finding someone to speak for us is our power.
• Build a world of professional peers – use the internet (my comment on this would be absolutely – find great people on Twitter and follow them!)
• You need to network – this is not your last job!
• Know yourself and set your priorities accordingly

Her best metaphor was left till last. It was all about farmers, and how whatever happens they never feel like they have had a good year. Extending this to librarians she said – we have been here a long time, and it’s never been a good year for libraries – get over it.

Indeed.

Some of this stuff I knew, some I wish I had heard years ago. I’m pleased I got to have the reminder about what’s important to help get the job done and not go crazy.

Web2.0 and technology strategy planning – it’s all about the customer

On Wednesday I went to a workshop technology strategy planning workshop – organised by LIANZA and presented by Richard Hulser. This would be a very useful course for those writing a technology strategy – either those who hadn’t done one before, or those wanting a refresher on what a good model would be. Sometimes courses like this don’t tell you anything new, but they the remind you/clarify your own thinking/confirm what you already know. It would have been useful in that context for me in previous jobs I’ve had, not so much the one I have now.

 I was probably expecting a bit more of web 2.0 focus – and although this was mentioned it really wasn’t the central focus of this workshop. Having said that the workshop did remind me that while there is a lot of appeal in leaping in and giving things a go (particularly to help you learn about something), when it comes to utilising social networking technologies in customer services, this is probably better done in response to meeting a customer need/identified service delivery requirement, in the context of the overall organisational strategy.

The key thing for me is how we assess those needs. I think librarians still have a way to go to get good at this – we need to get better at  at gathering information about our customer needs, and analysing the information we already gather via surveys, feedback forms etc. 

 Further to this – Why Web2.0 projects fail

 As I have typed up my report for work I came across a very interesting blog post by Meredith Farkas who talks about why 2.0 initiatives fail – which gives some good food for thought about what you need to consider to make them succeed. 

I’ve summarised some points here, as they are quite relevant to technology strategy planning as it relates to web2.0:

  •  social software implementations need to be tied to institutional goals – the library’s strategic plan
  •  web2.0 technologies need to be planned for in a strategic way
  •  first need to understand the needs of your population (patrons or staff) and then implement whatever technology and/or service will best meet those needs
  •  need to have clear goals in mind from the outset so that you can later assess if its successful or not
  •  social software can be a pet project for an individual staff member, it is important that cross-training takes place so that if that person leaves or gets too busy, the initiative continues
  •  web2.0 technologies are easy to start but keeping them going takes time and effort. You need to plan how you will maintain the technology e.g. adding content, updating the software. “Libraries need to plan for the implementation and continued maintenance of 2.0 tech in the same way they plan for the technologies they pay a small fortune for.”
  •  Library staff can end up abandoning web2.0 projects because they aren’t given enough time to work on then
  •  Before a project is abandoned try to figure out why it didn’t have the impact hoped for – is more promotion needed, are there barriers to usage (difficult to make comments, add content etc), are staff comfortable with the technology, has training been offered
  • Just because a web2.0 technology isn’t a good fit now, doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future (worth remembering!)