Librarians Online Survey

I hinted at doing this over a week ago, but I finally got time to write out a short survey in Google Docs about librarians and their activities online. This is what I would call a ‘tester’ survey in that I want to see how eclectic the librarian community is when it comes to their online conversation spaces. From this survey, I’ll be looking design another one that probes further into the online services, sites, and tools that librarians use. But first, I want a little data to give me some direction.

In the meantime, please click on the link, take the survey, and share it as widely as you can. I’d like to get a decent sample size so I’ll be sending it out on all of my social networks but I could always use a hand from the readership. If you’d be so kind to send it to your social networks, your library staff, library system, state association, or whatever mailing lists you belong to, I’d be much obliged.

Librarians Online Survey

I’m looking forward to people’s responses! I’ll be reporting the survey results in a few weeks.

Everything I Wanted To Know About Library Marketing I Learned From A Shampoo Bottle

The always brilliant Ned Potter wrote up a wonderful little primer on library marketing entitled “Three simple marketing rules all libraries should live by…” In his post, he emphasizes marketing the service, dropping the ‘how this works’ explanation, and promote the intersection of what the patron values with what the library values. Or, in other words, to use Pepsi as an example: Pepsi tells you that it refreshes, not that it is made with high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients; there is no Pepsi ad that walks you through how it is made; and Pepsi and its customers are both enjoy sugary caffeinated drinks and work to promote that relationship.

In writing up his three marketing tips, I took it as inspiration to write up my own three things to share. As the title of this blog post suggests, the instructions from a shampoo bottle are the perfect way to explain my meaning.

  • Lather

When you think of lather, I’m talking about marketing coverage. You are trying to get the shampoo in contact with your entire head of hair, not just parts of it. Publicity is not just limited to locations within the library; think about the entire community that the library serves. Local businesses to hang flyers, radio stations to record public service announcements, bulletin boards around the school and in housing or student centers, student or local newspapers to run your press releases or advertising, or the work lunch room if your library is at a hospital or law firm. All of these places are in the community that you serve, accessible by your patrons, and all possible spots for your publicity materials.

  • Rinse

When you think of rinse, I mean it as looking to clean up your marketing messages. Your initial marketing material and pitches can be made more precise, more contextual, and more compact. For myself, I find that the little sales pitch I give for a program or service grows shorter over time as I eliminate extraneous words and phrases and get it down to a just-the-facts speech that can be said in under a minute. I edit and re-edit press releases every other month to change up the appeal and to sharpen the prose. It’s a matter of constant re-evaluation of what the library is saying, how it is saying it, and how the message can be refined.

  • Repeat

When you think of repeat, I’m speaking of marketing as a repetition game. It’s about telling the same pitch to different people throughout the day, posting your posters or flyers everywhere you can think about it, and driving home the message you want to send whether it is “Sign up for our crafting class!”, “Did you know we offer one-on-one research consultations?”, or “We have a library club!”. If you’ve said it one hundred times, then say it a thousand more times. If you’ve thought you slathered the community with flyers already, check again for more spots to post. For every time you repeat something, it creates a new opportunity to inform someone of whatever it is what you want to educate them. You can’t simply hope that by telling one person that they will tell ten others; tell those ten other people yourself to ensure that they got the message.

Marketing tends to reward the amount of work you put into it. If you just fire off a press release and post a flyer in one spot at the library, then you are probably going to get the attendance or service use that reflects your effort. You have to invest time in reaching people; it will pay out in dividends of program attendance, service use, and an overall higher door count. It’s up to you to make the effort, no matter what kind of library you are in, what size it happens to be, or where it is situated in the community. It takes effort, but it is well worth it.

Just like good hair.

What Exactly Do We Train For?

That’s essentially the question I have this Sunday, to which I feel that I don’t have enough data to provide an answer. If I was formulating a hypothesis on the basis of what I’ve observed in terms of both national and state conference programming, continuing education classes within my own state, and what I’ve managed to pick up over the years, I would say that the library profession is extraordinarily keen on training people on tools like databases, websites, and other information retrieval or organization tools.

While to some of you this might seem like a no brainer (“It’s what we do, Andy.”), I find what isn’t offered speaks louder. There are very few marketing and advertising opportunities (including demographic and population analysis, something that got classroom time at my MLS program). Any customer service practices program tends to be about policy rather than people, and considering that body tone and expression rank higher than words spoken I would think some basic body language or facial expression reading classes might be in order. A couple of years ago I would include advocacy oriented sessions, but that seems to be a cyclical offering for the bad budget years.

While talking about the “Best YA Books of 2011” is certainly a good conference session, there is less talk about how to advertise, display, or otherwise even provide an ice breaker for approaching the YA audience about these books. These presentations are very nice, but without something to draw in the patron to them, they are going to collect dust on the shelf.

There is a big push to proclaim that libraries are a people oriented endeavor, but our training seems to belie that priority. (I would say that our policies in general do as well, but that’s another argument.)

So, what exactly are we training for?

In taking a look at your library or library system, state association and conferences, what do you think we train for? What do you see offered versus what do you think should be offered?

(Follow up question: Are terms like marketing, advertising, branding, and their kin bad words in the librarian profession? What’s the aversion?)

The Productivity Parabola

There is an experiment that I’ve seen referenced twice in books I read this year(the first time was in How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and the second was in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell). I will spare you the details of the experiment and skip to the conclusion: our subconscious brains can pick up patterns (and act on them) long before our conscious brains can explain them. It’s an explanation of the “funny feeling”, that initial emotional cue that you get when a situation or person or place just doesn’t feel right; something is wrong and you don’t know what it is.

In keeping this result in mind, it has taken me about ten days to figure out something that seems very basic as I type it out now.

I’m tired.

Not in the physical sense, although the gym and keeping late hours certainly does not help that. I’m talking in the emotional and spiritual sense, a feeling at what I can only describe as being the psychic level. It is a deep, inward tiredness of the mind, for want of a better phrase.

In looking back at the past six months, I have come to realize how busy I am. Some of it is pretty obvious in terms of spearheading the HarperCollins petition, doing presentations for ACRL, ALA and Pennsylvania Library Association, coordinating the Tech Lounge at the NJLA conference, and trying to get the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights out into the larger discussion. The rest is more behind the scenes work in terms of maintaining conversations across Facebook, Twitter, and now Google Plus, reading a vast array of librarian blogs, and writing about noteworthy stories and topics over the course of a year.

It is a full time job on top of my actual paying full time job. Being well informed in the myriad of librarian topics, both of the moment and long term, is not a casual commitment for me. In order to write, you have to read; as someone who tries to build on a conversation, it is a matter of finding out what has been left unsaid or unspoken so that you are not simply regurgitating the talking points of another (not that I always succeed, but as they say, great minds think alike).

I do not regret my involvement in all of these things, but the experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to what kind of energy and the importance of pacing is involved in these endeavors. It is one thing to write a blog post on a position and place it online, referencing it again as the topic returns. It is another to engage in a protracted campaign, whether it is for a library themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor or a company to retract its odious limited circulation policy or to get people to consider how they want to see eBook evolve. It goes on and on, a movement that requires constant tending for continued growth. It’s a longer commitment compared to some statewide efforts I’ve been involved in, albeit as the creator of these campaigns it is far more personal.

In the time it took me to come to this realization, I think I hit the trough of my productivity parabola. A parabola, as illustrated at the top of this post, is perhaps the best way to describe my productivity. I’m either on my way up or down in terms of creating or working on a project. The hard part is figuring out whether I am on an upswing or a downswing; in other words, it is hard to determine whether I’m entering a project on an upswing of creativity and energy or coming off of one. Of course, sometimes you have to get involved in order to find out but that’s just part of the deal.

Even in plotting out this blog post in which I was planning on talking about just how tired I was (how exciting, right?), I was struck with a question that more than piqued my interest. I’m curious about how librarians share online, whether it is through social media or bookmarking sites/tools or other websites. I’m putting together a survey that I’ll be linking to in the near future. (I’ll need your help to spread the word.)

In keeping with my very own tradition, in the depths of what felt like a creativity dearth I found something new and invigorating. (Go figure.) As I put together my survey, I’m wondering how my colleagues deal with hitting the bottom of their productivity parabola. I’d love to hear how you get out of your rut.

(By the way, the HarperCollins petition is 405 signatures away from 70,000. If you wouldn’t mind sharing it again, I’d like to at least reach that milestone.)

To the MLS Class of 2013

It’s now the middle of August, an inauspicious month that marks the final full month of summer before its unofficial end at the Labor Day holiday in New Jersey. Most library science graduate programs around the country are preparing for another year of instruction for a mix of returning students and new blood. For the fresh faces, I thought I’d offer some advice for their tenure in their graduate programs. While I am a relatively new person on the library scene (having graduated in 2006), I’d like to share some of things I’ve observed in my time and travels.

I encourage other librarians to add their advice to my own (either here or in your own blog) and thank you in advance for taking the time to do so. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2013:

Network.

If there is one thing that every graduate should leave their program with, it’s a a list of names and contact information. Who are the people on this list? Classmates. Faculty who taught them. People in state or national associations or who work for library vendors. Librarians who tweet, blog, write articles, speak, and present in your field of interest or focus. They need not be good friends, you need not have meet them face to face, but they know who you are.

To say that librarianship is a people business is not simply about the communities that are served, but that vast network of professionals who are brought together by a common cause. Compared to other occupations, librarians are overall a friendly helpful bunch who answer a call for help or advice or otherwise debate. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised when I’ve reached out to people I’ve never met and asked them for advice, commented on something they said or wrote, or otherwise made contact. More often than not, you’ll find that these people are open to conversations, talking about topics of interest, and giving you some additional advice. Yes, some are aloof or time limited or just plain arrogant, but it is a worthwhile chance to take.

Question.

Take this one word advice to all its meanings. Ask out of curiosity for those things you want to know more about. Ask out of investigation and information vetting to determine authority or merit. Ask out of rebellion in challenging both old and new ways.

Ask, ask, ask. Sharpen your inquiry skills since asking the right question saves you (and in some cases your patron) time and energy tracking down the correct answer. It’s never too early to work on your interview skills, even if you never intend on gracing the reference desk. The right questions lead to the right answers.

Work.

There are libraries that will hire people in progress for their MLS/MLIS. You don’t need to wait to have the degree in hand to start job hunting and considering the job market you should apply early and often. If you can’t find a job, find an internship. Some are paid, some are unpaid, but each offers valuable experience. If you can’t find an internship, volunteer. It may not be what you ultimately want to do but it does get your foot in the door.

And if you can’t volunteer, then build your own personal learning network. Find people in the field you are interested in and follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, friend them on Facebook, circle them on Google Plus, and subscribe to the listservs. Get involved in the larger conversations even if you are just a listener. (You should probably build your own personal learning network anyway.)

Find your passion.

That pretty much sums it up. What library or librarian aspect ignites that fire within? Digital divide? Book challenges? Open access? School media? Reader’s advisory? Find it and begin the journey to mastering it. Become the expert, the advocate, the one who stands up before their peers and says, “This is important”. Join forces with others who feel the same way. If you see no one else tackling the issue, than it is up to you to do it.

Have fun.

(That’s up to you to figure out.)

In the end, there’s a lot of noise about the vigor of MLS/MLIS programs, the state of the job market, the value or professional organization, and the future of the profession and libraries. It’s a constantly moving circus sideshow, a necessary but distracting conversation compared to what is going on in the three rings underneath the big tent. It about meeting the expectations of the main event, to provide all the sights and sounds and wonders that people come to the library for, and to ensure the continuation of the show down the road.

You may accept or reject all or none of this advice, but please accept this final one:

Good luck.

Why Your Library Should Do One on One Appointments

After my post about teaching computer basics, one of the comments reminded me of another service that I offer at my library that I love to do: one on one assistance. Initially, it started as something specifically for people needing help with their unemployment and job hunting. Whether it was writing a resume or brainstorming new search strategies, I would sit down with a patron for thirty to sixty minutes and focus on the help that they needed. Over time, I extended to computer help and now I offer assistance with anything. (Ok, nearly anything within knowledge and reason, but I’m not topic limited anymore.)

The good thing about one-on-one style help is that it is nothing new to libraries nor is it limited by library types. Research consultations at the academic level and individualized instruction at the school level already embrace the benefits of one on one sessions. But if you are working at a library that doesn’t do one on one or considers it unfeasible, I have some reasons for you to consider (or reconsider) offering it.

  • Time (and Staffing) Went Spent

For one on one sessions, it works at any library size level. Even if your library is small enough not to offer group computer classes, all you need is a single computer and two chairs. In accepting appointments, you can block off time so you can adjust staffing and coverage accordingly. In a pinch, that person can be asked to help out with a major issue or deal with a problem. The bottom line is that it can work within staff schedules and not tie them up for undue periods of time.

  • Personal Tailored Sessions

In setting up the appointment, staff can determine what help they need and what their skill level is. In prepping for the session (if any is required), they can try to meet those needs as well as presenting it in a manner that is appropriate for the patron. In focusing on the individual, a topic can be presented in the most approachable way. As the session progresses, changes can be made on the fly to accommodate questions and/or further needs.

In addition, it puts a staff member in a more casual context with the patron where they can open up about the topic. Unlike the group setting, people will be more frank about their questions or issues in the one on one setting. This further deepens the connection and allows me to teach towards their strengths and issues.

  • Increases the Number of Computer Topics Offered for Instruction

For groups, I teach a basic computer class, an email one, an internet searching, and a Facebook class at the moment. (I’m going to offer Google Plus in the fall.) For the individual, I offer the same topics as well as teaching Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft Office, and other internet odds and ends. I could offer these other topics as group classes, but I haven’t had much interest from my community to sustain it as a regular group offering. In offering it as a one-on-one session, I keep all the preparation that I did for those classes and be able to say that it is one of the topics we offer instruction on at the library.

  • Just Plain Good Customer Service

To me, it is advocacy and marketing all rolled into one as a hidden layer to the session. It allows me to put a face on the library for the patron, to make one more slightly deeper connection in the community, and gives me chances to mention other materials and services as they apply to the session. It’s a very soft sell style, for certain, but it lets me throw out something they might not know about. Furthermore, the one on one sessions offer something that is heavily advertised in parts of the retail world: personalized attention. With all of the automation and technology out there, the one on one sessions take it in the other direction by giving someone your full effort. In a world where a common complaint is how impersonal it is, it really makes a difference.

  • It Is What You Make It

While I call it one on one help, I’ve helped people in pairs (friends, business partners) and even a trio (a group of local YA authors). The key strength and ultimate selling point is the flexibility of the classes. It can accommodate tough schedules, little or no budget, and any level of computer skill or need. It allows me to take a request for help, fit it into my duties and scheduling, and meet the need. I don’t simply tell people I don’t have time to help them at the computer when they ask for something that is complicated; I tell them that I don’t have time right now to do so and ask them if they would be interested in an appointment. It becomes a personal challenge to see if I can help them with their topic or get them to make an appointment.

 

One on one appointments work because they offer individual and tailored attention, expand the number of instruction topics, and create the opportunity to make a deeper connection with a library patron.

If your library doesn’t offer these sessions, I would encourage them to do so and I’d be willing to help answer any questions or concerns as it relates to this service. You can leave a comment here or contact me through Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus as found on the right sidebar of this blog.

That’s right. I’m offering a one on one session about one on one sessions. Because I believe anyone can do it.

Re: What I Love Doing

There’s one line in Jessamyn West’s commencement speech to the Goddard College’s Masters in Individualized Studies Program that popped out at me when I read it.

- what I love doing

(“I teach email to old people… no seriously it’s the best thing there is”)

In reflecting on the line, I was faced with a question: how many librarians who talk and present about web 2.0, mobile interfaces, and all other manner of technology in the library teach a basic computer class? The kind of basic computer class that starts off with concepts like “this is a mouse, this is a keyboard”. How many librarians that sit on technology or web panels stand in a computer lab and walk people through the basics?

I’m not just talking about teaching seniors here. I’ve taught this basic class to people who are just a bit older than I am (late 30’s, if you must know). It’s not that people who didn’t grow up with the technology or some other age/generation based explanation; these are people who just never made it a priority in their lives to have a computer or use one. Now, with employment applications going online or wanting to stay in contact with family members far away, they are looking to learning how.

Don’t interpret this as a statement that those who do not teach basic computers cannot make any commentary when it comes to library technology. It’s not meant to be nor should it be interpreted as one. I just believe that teaching a basic computer class has changed the way I approach the topic. When you are teaching such a class, your entire vocabulary changes as you find approachable and non-technical jargon ways of describing the computer and its operation. The ultimate lesson I try to impart to my students is to be adventurous, be curious, and don’t worry about clicking on “the wrong thing” because honestly you really can’t hurt the computer. There is so much agony raveled around “messing up the machine” that people forget that for the same price as replacing all four tires on a car you can buy two or three computers.

Not that I would encourage that either but you get the point.

For the scientist in me, there have been some very interesting observable moments. People touching the screen on the computer like an iPad or ATM screen to try to make it work. One individual who asked if they had to come to the library to get retrieve their email. And, my favorite, people picking up the mouse and try to use it by waving it around. (It’s my favorite because one of my graduate school professors related a story about this happening. I believed him, but I still wanted to see it for myself. And, oh boy, I have.) Most are actions and behaviors influenced by the other technology in their lives, but they are all genuine in their origin.

For myself, it is rewarding when you see people start to understand what they are looking at, to be less apprehensive about using the mouse or the keyboard, and to make that connection in their mind that they can do this. That’s the moment I help them towards and why I love to teach basic computer classes at the library.

Do you teach a basic computer class at your library? Or any computer class, for that matter? What’s your experience like?