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I recently took an online survey that asked for input from both public and academic libraries. From my view point as a public librarian (although a brand spanking new one) is seemed pretty obvious that the survey was geared towards academic libraries.

Quite a few of the questions on this survey asked about teaching users how to use our resources and what teaching methodologies that we might be using. This got me to thinking about “teaching” in public libraries. Should public libraries “teach?” How much time should be spent “teaching?” Do our customers even want to be taught and if so what? How do we reach them?

Now understand that I am just starting to ask these questions and have not formed any hard answers yet. For me this is an exploration and a request for information. I welcome your thoughts and examples.

While working the reference desk, I have interacted with large numbers of individuals seeking information. I can say that very few of them seemed interested in learning how to find the information themselves. Many times I have offered to show people how to find the information themselves, but only a very few have ever been interested. I am willing to say that my selling skills are perhaps not the best, but I have a gut feeling that this is what most reference librarians in public libraries experience. Can you teach people how to do something that they would rather you do for them?

I have watched many public and private schools take tours of my library and then they are turned loose to do “research.” These tours seem to be mostly composed of here are the books, ask for help. I would not call this teaching. The reference librarians also give a tour of the databases we have and the catalog, if the teacher has allowed time. But to cover dozens of databases in ten minutes does not make it very educational. Is this the kind of teaching we should be doing? I would basically call this giving a tour. But is it also leads me to ask, if we are not given the opportunity to teach, what can we do?

So I see two main hindrances so far: one, people don’t want to learn, they just want the information so they can get on with their lives; two, we often do not have the opportunity to teach. We might not ever actually encounter the individual or we may not have the time, such as the school tours mentioned above. So what are some solutions?

Until there are no more reference librarians to hand out answers and teachers have all the time in the world, the above issues will not go away. What about giving how to use your library classes? This might work, but I have my doubts. Let me know if you have had success doing classes like this in a public library. For me the most interesting opportunity to teach in the public library setting is presented by technology.

I will start this thought process by making a couple of big assumptions. I would guess that users that use our websites or the terminals within the library are technically more savvy, more motivated (most importantly) and more willing to learn if we offer them the opportunity. As we go through our website redesign process I am looking for potential learning opportunities that I can sneak in. Many academic and some public libraries use guides to assist researchers, which is a great first step, but not quite far enough. I am hoping to offer very unobtrusive “learning moments” throughout the website, along with guides, screen casts and video training. I just love to make more work for myself!

So I have a plan to help the people already using library technology become better at it (if they choose to). So what do I do to get others to become more motivated self learners? This is the challenge and what I am still trying to figure out. As for the school tour scenario, I see outreach as the most effective tool we have. We need to get into the classroom before they set foot into the library. Sounds easy? No!

So to answer my own question from the title of this post… Yes, public libraries should teach. It’s the how that we have to figure out and get better at. Feel free to sock it to me!

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It seems I have become embroiled in a debate about marketing librarians and not necessarily marketing heir libraries at the same time. My friend Greg over at Open Stacks recently wrote a blog where he talked about being interest in:

“And please note, my interest is NOT in marketing libraries. There are plenty of other people worrying about that. I’m talking about marketing librarians. I hope to find ways to demonstrate the importance of that distinction to others in our profession. Who’s with me?”

I made several pithy (that’s my opinion) statements that basically disagree with this approach. After a couple ruffled feathers and back and forth’s I made the following statement:

“Nothing I said was against passion, quite t[he] opposite in my view. What I am saying is that if we are not effectively marketing our libraries, then marketing a librarian does not do us much good. Also marketing librarians outside of the context of the library and its’ services does make much sense to me. Perhaps a balance[d] approach is what is most needed.”

I stick to my statement. Libraries are struggling to find their footing in the realm of marketing their services, we do not need to redirect energy into marketing personalities, unless that effort is directly tied into supporting the libraries mission.

Perhaps a little bit of clarification of my perspective on the issue of marketing versus public relations will help other understand where I am coming from. I think what Greg and some of the others are really talking about is librarians becoming active public relations ambassadors and not really marketing. If you are marketing something you are trying to sell it or get people to use it. If you are doing the public relations things, you are trying to get people to think positively about you, to develop goodwill when they think of an individual or institution. Now if librarians are going to “market” themselves, the still need to have a library (academic, public, law, medical, special or corporate) behind them. How else are they going to give any service or have anything to market?

Now is there a time that I could see marketing the profession of librarian itself? Yes.

Now I may be totally off the mark here, but I am trying to understand, so thank you for putting up with me!

From the Marrian-Webster Online Dictionary

librarian

Main Entry: li·brar·i·an Listen to the pronunciation of librarian

Pronunciation: \lī-ˈbrer-ē-ən, –ˈbre-rē-\

Function: noun

Date:1 671

: a specialist in the care or management of a library

li·brar·i·an·ship Listen to the pronunciation of librarianship\-ˌship\ noun

Evolving Solutions

A few days ago I wrote a post where I lambasted librarians and libraries in general about not taking risks (this was part of the committee rant). I would like to briefly continue this train of thought here and perhaps offer you a different way to think about developing solutions within the library world.

Evolution!

No matter where you stand on the issues of the origins of the species, I think we can all see that, at the very least, manmade things do change over time (can you say Internet). This is call evolution. Most manmade things do not strike out on their own and decide to reinvent themselves. They require input from those that interact with them or those who are knowledgeable enough to modify them to suit their needs or the needs of others. I am sure all of you out there in library land have witnessed the demands of your job evolving over time.

Now if we can accept the fact that evolution does occur in the above fashion, we can also agree to apply the concept of evolution to the services libraries offer their customers/patrons. I hope we can anyway.

Design – Develop – Test – Deploy – Evaluate – Redesign – Do it again – and again

Above is my mantra for website and software development. Too many organizations, people and yes libraries seem to get stuck in the design stage. They so badly want to get things “right” the first time, they never make it to the deployment stage.

Take a deep breath and deploy the damn thing! Set a deployment date (make it reasonable) and deploy on that date what you have accomplished, then let the service or product evolve over time. You will learn so much more by putting it out there than you will by keeping it hidden while you search for perfection.

Not going to make your launch date? Then scale back the product and make the date with what you have ready to go. The important thing here is to get projects out the door and into the real world while accepting that it may not be perfect or “finished.”

You can do it, it is okay, I give you permission to make glorious messes and failures. That’s what we call life!

Marketing Libraries

Why not? Why do so many libraries and librarians seem genetically disinclined to promote themselves?

Being an “accidental librarian” (I know I use that a lot, but what else works) and coming form a marketing and business background, I am completely baffled by this attitude. Libraries sit around with their hat in their hands, giving weak smiles to passer-bys hoping to receive a little support or appreciation. Bah!

These days even the U.S. Government is marketing its’ services, especially online services, while businesses, non-profits and other institutions are shamelessly letting the world know what they are doing, through multi-channel aggressive marketing campaigns. I think it is time for libraries to get off their duffs and do the same thing.

While we may bemoan the competition we now face for our customer’s attention (whine! Google is evil), we must move away from our historical passive stance as institutions if we are to retain our support infrastructure and remain relevant in the modern world. We should be loud and proud of our profession, our libraries and let the world know it!

Just last summer, I was basically a newbie in the whole social networking thing known sometimes as Web 2.0. I now know that Web 2.0 is much more than social networking, but that’s not what I am going to talk about today. Today is all about my journey into the social side of the beast.

I must confess that six months ago I was looking askance at all the “social networking” options out there. I made some snide comment about not being sure of the “real” value of these tools. Well now I know! So here is the scoop according to me.

As real tools, most of my experience has shown Web 2.0 social networking to have been a near zero, to date. There have been several blogs that have given me some tools and information, but this has only happened infrequently. I am currently using: Twitter, Facebook, Meebo, iGoogle (I really like the feed reader), Flickr, MySpace and this blog, which is all that I can handle.

I have not gleaned great insight into any new tools to refine my professional skills to any “measureable” effect. But the collateral, less measurable damage has been significant:

  • I have gain a lot of new friends, many of which I have now met at a conference, which gives me a greater sense of comfort within my new profession.
  • I have gained a greater understanding of the library profession and the daily trials and tribulations of other librarians.
  • I have developed a support network that helps me to understand and discuss things that I would not be willing go to fellow employees or even my boss about (she’s a mean one).
  • I have a new stress relief tools.
  • I have a place to bounce new outrageous ideas and issues off of people that I do not have to “see” every day.
  • I have sort of learned the meaning of the term snarkey!

Final evaluation is this… if you are expecting to become instantly enlightened using the social networking side of Web 2.0 then you are in for a great disappointment in my opinion. If you stick things out, explore, share and built your community, you will, over time reap great rewards that where impossible just a few years ago. I encourage employers, this includes libraries, to allow and yes, to even encourage, their employees to participate in social networking.

The state of my social network is small, but growing and it has enriched my both my professional and personal life. I am looking forward to the next six months of being so very social!

Death of the committee & perfection…

Not to air our dirty laundry, but our library has attempted to redesign our website several times in the past, with no success (that was before they hired me, of course). I attribute this to two things, committees and the librarian’s obsession with perfection. Let talk about both of these a bit.

I love a good committee, where everyone sits down, rolls up their sleeves and lets the good ol’ creative juices flow. Ideals are written down action plans made, duties assigned and everyone is done by lunch and the project comes in on time and on budget. Sounds like a fairy tale? Not really, I have had this experience many times in my various careers, but for this to happen there are some conditions that must be met. These are:

  1. Management must be 100% committed to the committee’s objectives and provide appropriate support.
  2. Everyone should know the goals, expectations, time restrictions and expected results of the committee’s work BEFORE they ever meet.
  3. Everyone involved in the committee should be knowledgeable in the subject areas the committee will be working on.
  4. Everyone should walk away from the meeting with a clear understanding of their responsibilities and the timelines involved.
  5. Consensus only leads to failure, realize that you just can not make everyone happy.
  6. Have a leader and make everyone responsible to that leader.
  7. Follow up and communicate.

Having reviewed the many pages of notes that the “web redesign” committees generated here, it was quite obvious that the above conditions where not met. So you say, “Well that all sounds fine and dandy, but what do we do if there are no knowledgeable people on staff?” Simple answer is you hire an outside firm to do the work for you. Cannot afford to do that? Then make sure that you are hiring the right skills for your organization. I know that I am oversimplifying things a bit here, but where there is a will there is a way.

If you only have one or two people who have the smallest inkling of what needs to be done, then forget trying to do a committee thing and form a team. Again most of the criteria above apply, but let the team leader select his teammates and function as the coordinator/director. In the team approach democracy is dead and the team members carry out the directives of the team leader and give input as requested. Sounds a bit doctorial, but it has a chance of actually getting things done.

Finally give up on the idea of perfection. Get over it, because you will not find it. It simply does not exist. Give yourself and your teams/committees permission to fail. This encourages your team members to take risks and will produce the best results (incredible failures are also possible, but make great water cooler and blog conversations). This lack of risk taking, in my view, is a major contributor to the state of many libraries’ websites. Too many libraries have been playing it safe, waiting until the perfect moment when the budget and skill sets are all in place. Sorry folks it just is not going to happen, so get out there and start doing it today!

It seems like everything gets graded these days. Our kids, their schools, teachers, electronic equipment and even our libraries get graded by someone, are we becoming a society that only places value on good grades and forgets the less tangible values (worth pondering). While I am not sure that I like this new mindset of having to grade everything, it does offer individuals and institutions benchmarks to evaluate there performance and hopefully improve their services.

Recently Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau released a report card on the libraries in Wisconsin (full report here: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/news_pdfs/library_services.pdf). I am proud to note that our library system received A’s, but take it for what it is worth. In reality our best measurement of success is the increased circulation numbers and what our customers are telling use by using our library more and more every year, along with the continued financial support of the community. Does this mean that we are doing everything right? Absolutely not!

There is a large amount of discussion going on out in the blogosphere and other places about the role of the library in today’s high-tech world and into the future. While I don’t think there is a clear answer to these kinds of questions, the fact that the debate is going on is of itself interesting (remember I am not a librarian by training). For myself I believe that libraries will continue to have a role in the foreseeable future and believe that libraries need to be flexible and evolving entities that can quickly respond to the needs of their customers.

If you are interested, you can read the La Crosse Tribune article that got this post going (read here: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/articles/2008/04/18/news/00lead.txt ), which I encourage you to do. But maybe most importantly for libraries and librarians, read the comments that follow the article.

As always, you thoughts are welcome!