Friday, December 16, 2011

You gotta show up

At the risk of coming across as a Seth Godin lackey, I do have to share a recent video of his.  He's not specifically talking about libraries but the connections are too strong to be ignored.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The way forward. And the way backward.

In library land (as well as many other lands, most likely) we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the one big thing that will blow things wide open.  We'll make that perfect presentation to just the right person and adequate library funding will be secured indefinitely.  We'll roll out the perfect service or resource and the City Council and Mayor will be lining up outside our doors to offer us additional revenue.

And when we aren't thinking these grand thoughts, we're thinking just the opposite: the sky is going to fall.  The apocalypse is nigh.  We're cutting the budget to the point where we just won't be a viable organization.  We're underfunded.  We're overworked.  We aren't appreciated.

But here's the thing: neither of those two scenarios are likely.  Instead, it is one small step at a time.  If we satisfy one library member with one interaction then we are one step closer to remaining and/or becoming a valued asset in our community.  If we disappoint... well, we then lose one potential voice of support.  These things come in baby steps.  It's a creeping thing.

While a gradual creep (name for my next band: The Gradual Creeps) isn't nearly as dramatic as a big bang, it is somewhat comforting that the solution ultimately lies in small actions rather than some large, nebulous ideal.

Thanks to Seth Godin for the spark for these thoughts: 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Keepin' it real...

When I give a presentation to a group of business folks I usually have about 30 - 45 minutes for my spiel. Here are the points/resources I try to cover:
  • Local human librarians vs. Google
  • ReferenceUSA
  • DemographicsNow
  • General OneFile
Often the presentation is at some sort of a networking event so try to pay attention to the make up of the audience before your presentation.  I just spoke today to a group that included a man who is at the beginning stages of putting together a business plan for an indoor shooting range.  Interesting.  When it was my turn with the microphone I used ReferenceUSA and showed the group how he could pull together a list of all the shooting ranges in Washington State so he can instantly know who his competition -- and potential collaborators -- might be.  That's a good thing to know when it comes to guns.  Using DemographicsNow I then showed how to round up the demographics around other successful shooting rangers and compare them against his potential site.  Also in the crowd was a woman who is thinking about starting up her own wedding planning business.  Using General OneFile I showed the 21,000+ articles on the wedding industry that she could sift through and showed how to jump immediately to articles focused on "forecasts and trends."  Oohs and ahhhs all around.

The end result is that by using actual real-life, present-in-the-room types of examples the content of the presentation is moved from the yeah-that's-neat-in-a-theoretical-sense sentiment to holy-crap-I-need-access-to-these-resources-right-now mentality.  You can see the shift in the room as people go from uninterested nonbelievers to converts.  And that's the power of keeping it real.  Yo.

Side note: today I had the luxury of sitting in the back of the room and running the previously mentioned searches on my laptop before I got up to do the search live in front of the group.  I generally don't shy away from doing searches on the fly but if you can squeeze in a few sample searches in private it's a good idea.  That's keeping it kinda semi-real, albeit rehearsed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Those of us who inhabit the library world on a day-to-day basis sometimes need to look at what we do in a fresh light.

When we run a search on ReferenceUSA and within 30 seconds pull up a list of the 46 Spokane County female-owned manufacturing businesses without websites, well, that's all in a day's work for us. No biggie. But to the public that is straight up, hardcore magic. That's the equivalent of pulling four doves out of a handkerchief and having them explode into $100 bills.

The moral? Don't let our complacency with what we do color how the public views what we do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Outreach tip #47

If you have ventured out into the community to do presentations/speaking engagements, here's a suggestion: keep a spreadsheet listing the contact information for each group. When a year rolls by, send them a quick note letting them know that you'd be happy to come speak with their group again and show off all the cool new things that your library has implemented in the past year.

Wish I'd thought of that sooner than right now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


It's what libraries do. We buy something and then we share it. Pretty simple, really.

But why oh why are we so clumsy when it comes to sharing with other libraries? Sure, we've got our Interlibrary Loan program which certainly rocks. Within the span of just a few days, I can have delivered to my hands pretty much any book or journal article I could desire. That's amazing. But what about our subscription databases?

Yeah, yeah. Our contracts prevent us from allowing "non-authorized" users access to our databases. The price we pay is largely dependent upon use and/or population area served. But can't we be a little more creative than that? At the very least, every library in the state (academic or public) should have an option to purchase a "non-resident" library card that would then grant access to that institution's electronic resources. With constrained budgets, that would mean that the smallest library could pony up ~$50/year to purchase a card from the largest, most well-funded libraries in the state, thus granting library staff access to the most powerful and useful databases out there. Granted, the public wouldn't have direct access to the databases but once they became aware of the possibilities that exist they just might be more willing to put some dollars into their own local library.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gathering what is scarce

When Ben Franklin started up The Library Company of Philadelphia, books were scarce and expensive. Franklin's flash of inspiration was figuring out how to make them accessible and inexpensive. And thus, the idea of the public library was born.

Fast forward 280 years. Information is no longer scarce or expensive. What is scarce and expensive is compiled, indexed, findable, useful, high-quality information and having someone know where to find it. The days of libraries putting a book on the shelf and having that provide enough of a value to our community to justify our existence is over. We still need the book, yes, and at the same time we need to show our communities what is truly scarce and how libraries are the best model out there for managing scarcity, be it 18th century scientific tracts or 21st century databases.

Monday, April 11, 2011

One and done...

As much as I would like for the spreading of the library gospel to be just a simple one-shot deal, it just doesn't work that way.

Or at least it doesn't work that way for me.

I've been doing this outreach gig for coming up on five years now and in terms of reaching my entire community I'm really just at the starting line. My sense is that to get the public to fully appreciate the value that their public library holds we need to be consistently communicating like a child: unrelenting and occasionally with bits of brilliance.

Now, if I had a budget to work with or a staff to assign tasks to I might have a different take on this but I'm guessing I'd still be in roughly the same situation. It's a truism that there has never been a great organization that was built with all the resources it needed from the very beginning. That has to be earned.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Doing what they can't

In my ongoing dog and pony shows that I do around town showcasing the library's resources I frequently do a compare/contrast of the library vs. Google. While the database access issue gets good play (meaning that the library has access to content that Google can't get at) the thing that really resonates is the local, human connection. Google can't match that.

Every morning when I fire up my work computer I go to my sent mail folder, go back two days, see who I sent some bit of information to and then I send them a follow up note asking if the information I sent fit the bill or if we need to take another stab at it. People really like that. And that's something that Google can't do.